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John Joseph Pershing

John Joseph Pershing was born on September 13, 1860, in Linn County, Missouri near Laclede. His father, John Fletcher Pershing, and mother, Ann Elisabeth Thompson, moved to their farm shortly after their marriage in Warrenton, Missouri, on March 22, 1859.

Pershing entered West Point in July 1882 after securing an appointment by competitive examination. Starting in a class of 129 cadets, he was not high in scholastic standing, but each year he held the highest rank possible in the Cadet Battalion. He was appointed to Captain of Cadets and elected president of his class of 1886. At graduation he was ranked 30th in a class of 77 and received his diploma from the hand of General William T. Sherman.

Lieutenant Pershing's first duty assignment was with Troop L, 6th Cavalry, at Fort Bayard, New Mexico, where the Army was engaged in security operations against the Mescalero Apaches. While with the 6th, Pershing learned Apache and the Plains Indian sign languages. In the fall of 1887 he was transferred to Fort Stanton, New Mexico, where he distinguished himself nationally in rifle and pistol competition, and in "raiding games" similar to modern war games. In 1890, during an uprising of the Sioux, he served in South Dakota with the 6th Cavalry, in charge of the Indian scouts.

On September 15, 1891, Pershing took up duties as Professor of Military Sciences and Tactics at the University of Nebraska. He was promoted to first lieutenant on October 20, 1892. In order to promote more discipline and interest in the cadet corps he encouraged precision drill competition. In 1893, Company A, the special drill team, became the fraternal organization Varsity Rifles, and 1894, changed its name to Pershing Rifles. While at Nebraska, Pershing studied law and received his LL.B. with the class of 1893.

In October of 1895, Pershing was transferred to Fort Assiniboine, Montana. There the 10th Cavalry was active in deporting renegade Cree Indians to Canada. A trip to New York in January of 1897, led Pershing into a chance meeting with a police commissioner named Theodore Roosevelt. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

In June of 1897, Pershing was assigned to West Point as an assistant instructor in tactics. It was here that he acquired the nickname of "Black Jack" due to his strict enforcement of military discipline and also in reference to his duty with the all-black 10th Cavalry on the frontier.

On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain following the mysterious sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor at 2140 hours on the evening of February 15, 1898. In May, Pershing was promoted to captain and joined the 10th Cavalry in Tampa, Florida, as Regimental Quartermaster. Later in the year, the 10th fought in Cuba. Pershing was cited for gallantry on July 1, 1898, and subsequently was awarded the Silver Star. His brigade commander cited Pershing as, "… the coolest man under fire that I ever saw."

In August of 1898, Captain Pershing was commissioned Chief Ordinance Officer of Volunteers and was transferred to Washington. He held this post until December when he was put in charge of the Division of Customs and Insular Affairs, a new department created to provide military government for the newly acquired possessions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

Chair-born duty proved irksome after eight months, so on August 12, 1899, Pershing joined the 8th Army Corps in the Philippines. There, the 8th Army fought numerous engagements with the fierce Moro tribesmen of the island of Mindanao. In the next three years, the American Army was to engage in 2811 separate battles and actions against the Moros.

Pershing took charge of the post at Illigan, Mindanao, on October 11, 1901. There he learned the Moro dialect, gained an understanding of their Mohammedean culture and fighting creed, and diplomatically avoided several conflicts. He became so popular with the Moros that the Chieftains made Pershing a sultan of the Moros, an honor accorded to no other Army officer. The President said, "When a man renders such a service as Captain Pershing... it ought to be possible to reward him."

At a formal dinner in Washington, Pershing met Senator Francis E. Warren, chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee. Senator Warren's daughter Helen, who had recently graduated from Wellesly, caught Pershing's eye. After a year's courtship, she agreed to marry him. More than five hundred guests attended the wedding at the Epiphany Episcopal Church on January 26, 1905, including President Roosevelt and his family, most of the Cabinet, and a large delegation from Congress. The following day the new couple sailed for Tokyo since Pershing had been assigned there as a military attaché.

Soon after their arrival in the Far East, Pershing joined other foreign military observers with General Kurki's army in the last phase of the Russo-Japanese War. Here he met some of the greatest military minds in the world, many of which would be allies in the coming World War. Returning to Japan at the war's end, Pershing remained there until September 8, 1906, when his first child, Helen, was born. A few weeks later Pershing sailed for San Francisco.

While in route, the announcement came that, by presidential order, Pershing had been promoted to Brigadier General over the heads of 862 senior officers, amid a stream of protests. Critics, who forgot Pershing's splendid record and long years of service, could only remember that he was the son-in-law of an influential Senator and a personal friend of President Roosevelt. In answer to criticism, the President said, "To promote a man because he married a senator's daughter would be infamy; to refuse him promotion for the same reason would be equal infamy."

The new Brigadier General was assigned to Fort McKindley, on Luzon in the Philippines, as a brigade commander in December of 1906. His second daughter, Anne, was born on March 24, 1908, in Baguio, where the married officers had summer quarters.

Pershing's command was interrupted when, in the fall of 1908, war seemed imminent in the Balkans. For the next two months he was in Europe to inspect and report on the efficiency of the European armies. The next year, the Pershings returned to the United States in order for General Pershing to be treated for sprue, a dysentery-like tropical disease. While in the United States, Mrs. Pershing gave birth to their third child and first son, Francis Warren, in her hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In October of 1909, Pershing was appointed governor of the Moro Province, including Mindanao and the Sulu Islands. The province as a whole was considered pacified, but Moslem agitators kept the native population stirred. On May 20, 1912, Pershing's last child, Mary Margaret, was born at Zamboanga, Mindanao. Finally, open warfare broke out over a civilian disarmament plan of the military government. Pershing's last Moro campaign brought an end to uprisings for the duration of the American colonization and earned him the Distinguished Service Medal.

Following the overthrow of the Mexican government in December of 1913. Pershing returned to the United States and was given command of the 8th Infantry Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas. On the morning of August 27, 1915, he received a telegram telling of a fire at his home in the Presidio at San Francisco. His wife and three daughters had died, but his son Francis was saved by the family servant Johnson. The General buried his family at the Warren plot in Cheyenne, then he returned to Fort Bliss.

On March 15, 1916, General Pershing led a punitive expedition into Mexico in search of the bandit Leader, Francisco "Pancho" Villa, who had led a raid on Columbus, New Mexico. The expedition was ill equipped, hampered by lack of supplies, plagued by false information, and occasionally raided by Mexican troops.

On September 25, 1916, Pershing attained the rank of Major General. In February of 1917 the Pancho Villa expedition withdrew from Mexico. Though it was a failure, the expedition gave the Army several tools, including the use of the airplane, the automobile, and the wireless, for use in military operations. Pancho Villa was eventually assassinated in July of 1923 after making a truce with the Mexican Government.

On April 3, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. In early May, General Pershing was given command of the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe and jumped to the rank of four-star general. It became Pershing's task to ask the allies to wait for an American Army. The General found much of the Army run by incompetent "political" Generals. Also, he found that the British and French did not want an American Army, but only American troops to fill the ranks of their own decimated armies. These conditions Pershing would not allow. If he had less firmly insisted upon an American Army, if he had yielded to the urgent and forceful demands of the French and British that the American troops be incorporated into the ranks of their armies, the power of the American government at the Peace Conference would have been far less effective and the United States could possibly have lost the world voice it has today. Due to the diplomacy of General Pershing, in an admittedly difficult alliance, the course of American involvement in European affairs was undoubtedly altered in favor of the United States.

In 1921, Pershing was appointed Chief of Staff of the United States Army. In 1924, after 38 years of distinguished service, General Pershing retired from active duty at the age of 64. Congress, in appreciation of his years of service to his country, awarded him a fifth star and the honorary title of "General of the Armies," a title held by no other living man. Congress did eventually award the title, posthumously, to General George Washington. Due to this special rank, Pershing actually outranked all four of the five-star generals of World War II.

Held in the highest esteem, the General's advice was sought on military matters despite his retirement. He advocated throughout the remaining years of his life that the United States retain a strong posture of military readiness and he kept in close contact with military developments. He predicted, as early as 1932, that the conflicts with Germany and Japan were inevitable.

On July 15, 1948, John Joseph Pershing passed away at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, beneath a plain low gravestone, in an area reserved for World War I dead in accordance with his specific wish:

"When the last bugle is sounded, I want to stand up with my soldiers."




LL.B and LL.D, University of Nebraska
D.C.L., Oxford University
LL.D, Cambridge University
LL.N, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
LL.D, University of Arizona
LL.D, University of Missouri
LL.D, George Washington University
D. of M.S., Pennsylvania Military College
LL.D, The College of William and Mary,
LL.D, Harvard University
LL.D, University of Pennsylvania
LL.D, McGell University, Canada
LL.D, University of Maryland
LL.D, Princeton University
D. of M.S., New York University
LL.D, Columbia University

University of Wyoming


Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star

Service Medals
Indian Campaign Medal
Spanish Campaign Medal
Philippine Campaign Medal
Mexican Service Medal
Army of Cuban Occupation Medal
World War I Victory Medal with Battle clasps for Cambrai, Somme Defensive, Lys, Aisne, Montdidier, Noyon, Champagne-Maine, Aisne-Marno, Somme Offensive, Oise-Aisne, YpresLys, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Vittrio-Vento, and Defensive Sector

Silver Medal, Rifle Competition 1889
Arizona Revolver Team Bronze and Silver Medals
1891 Platte Revolver Team


Belgian Order of Leoploe (Grand Croix)
Croix de Guerre

British Order of the Bath (Knight Grand Cross)

Chinese Grand Cordon of the Order of the Presious
Light of the China Ho (Golden Grain) 1st Class

Czechoslovakian Croix de Guerre
Order of the White Lion (1st Class) with Sword

French Legion of Honor (Grand Cross)
Medaille MiLitariro
Croix de Guerre with Palm

Greek Order of the Redeemer

Italian Military Order of Savory (Grand Cross)
Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus (Grand Croix)

Japanese Order of the Rising Sun (Grand Cordon of the Paulownia)

Montenegrin Medaille Obilitch
Order of Prince Danilo Ier (Grand Croix)

Panamanian Medal of La Solidaridad (1st Class)

Peruvian Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun
Medal Commemorative of 1st Centenary of the Battle of Ava Chucho

Polish Order of "Virtutut MiLitari"

Romanian Order of Mihail the Brave (1st Class)

Serbian Order of the Star of Kare-Georges with Swords (1st Class)

Venezuelan Grand Cordon of the Order of the Liberator

Tendered Thanks of Congress
"Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, that thanks of the American people and the Congress of the United States are due, and are hereby tendered, to General John J. Pershing for his highly distinguished services as Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe and to the officers and men under his command for their unwavering devotion and heroic valor throughout the war."
-Joint Resolution of Congress
September 18, 1919
September 29, 1919 (approved)

Special Gold Medal
"In recognition of his peerless leadership, heroic achievement and great military victories, as Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe in World War I, and for his gallant and unselfish contribution to the preparation for, and the prosecution of World War II."
-Awarded by Act of Congress
August 7, 1946

Special Medal
A commemorative medal from Doctor Adofe Magica, President of the Committee of the city of Buenos Aires, "Sir, in the name of the committee in charge of the festivities with which the city of Buenos Aires celebrated joyously the advent of peace, consummated by the treaty of Versailles, I have the honor to convey to you a commemorative medal which has been especially dedicated to you. Receive it sir, with a testimony of the profound admiration and respect with which we hold your great services to the cause of justice and civilization."