John J. Pershing Biography

(Former Military Officer Who Served as the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces During World War I)

Birthday: September 13, 1860 (Virgo)

Born In: Laclede, Missouri, United States

John J. Pershing, the “General of the Armies,” was an American army officer who had an illustrious tenure as the commander of the ‘American Expeditionary Forces' (AEF) on the Western Front during World War I. The war veteran was the president and the “First Captain” of the ‘West Point’ class of 1886. He had served the Indian Wars (the Apache and Sioux Wars), the Spanish–American War (the Battle of San Juan Hill), and the Moro Rebellion during the Philippines insurgency. He led a punitive attack to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Additionally, he had a crucial role in the Russo–Japanese War, the Battle of Belleau Wood, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He had also mentored many generals who had eventually led the U.S. army during World War II. Pershing is still the only U.S. army officer to be honored with the five-star “General of the Armies” rank, the highest defense personnel rank, in his lifetime. He still remains the only army officer in America to have selected his insignia.
Quick Facts

Nick Name: Black Jack

Also Known As: John Joseph Pershing, Black Jack

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Helen Frances Warren

father: John Fletcher Pershing

mother: Ann Elizabeth Thompson

siblings: Grace Pershing, James Pershing, Mary Elizabeth Pershing, May Pershing, Ward Pershing

children: Anne Pershing, Colonel Francis Warren Pershing, Helen Elizabeth Pershing, Mary Margaret Pershing

Born Country: United States

Military Leaders American Men

Died on: July 15, 1948

place of death: Washington, D.C., United States

Cause of Death: Congestive Heart Failure

Notable Alumni: Truman State University, University Of Nebraska–Lincoln

Ancestry: British American, German American

Diseases & Disabilities: Coronary Artery Disease

U.S. State: Missouri

Founder/Co-Founder: Pershing Rifles, Reserve Officers Association, Bureau of Insular Affairs

More Facts

education: Truman State University, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, United States Military Academy, University Of Nebraska–Lincoln

awards: Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Order of the Bath
Pulitzer Prize for History

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Silver Star
Congressional Gold Medal
Order of Michael the Brave

  • 1

    What was John J. Pershing's role in World War I?

    John J. Pershing served as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

  • 2

    How did John J. Pershing earn the nickname "Black Jack?"

    John J. Pershing earned the nickname "Black Jack" due to his service with the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a unit of African American soldiers known as Buffalo Soldiers.

  • 3

    What impact did John J. Pershing have on the modernization of the U.S. Army?

    John J. Pershing played a significant role in modernizing the U.S. Army by advocating for the use of new tactics, equipment, and training methods.

  • 4

    What was the significance of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in John J. Pershing's military career?

    The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest offensive in U.S. military history, led by John J. Pershing, and played a crucial role in the Allied victory in World War I.

  • 5

    How did John J. Pershing's leadership style influence the U.S. military?

    John J. Pershing's leadership style emphasized discipline, training, and strategic planning, shaping the future of the U.S. military.

Childhood & Early Life
John Joseph Pershing was born on September 13, 1860, near Laclede, Missouri, to John Fletcher Pershing and Ann Elizabeth Thompson. He had two brothers, James F. (1862–1933) and Ward (1874–1909), and three sisters, Mary Elizabeth (1864–1928), Anna May (1867–1955), and Grace (1867–1903). Pershing's three other siblings died as infants.
Pershing graduated high school in 1878 and then taught local African–American children. He graduated with a “bachelor of science” degree in scientific didactics from the 'State Normal School' (now 'Truman State University') in 1880.
Pershing applied to the 'United States Military Academy' and was subsequently sworn in as a ‘West Point’ cadet in 1882. He finally became a “First Captain,” the highest possible cadet rank. He graduated in 1886 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
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Pershing assumed his duties on September 30, 1886, and was assigned to the '6th Cavalry,' which was then operating against Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache in the Southwest. He simultaneously participated in several Indian campaigns.
Between 1887 and 1890, while with the '6th Cavalry,' Pershing was posted to California, Arizona, and North Dakota. An expert marksman, he was rated second in pistol and fifth in rifle in the U.S. army in 1891.
On December 9, 1890, Pershing led the suppression of the final uprisings of the Lakota (Sioux) Indians and the Ghost Dance movement.
From September 1891 to 1895, Pershing was a professor of military science and tactics at the 'University of Nebraska–Lincoln.' He graduated with an LLB degree in 1893 from the university's 'College of Law.'
While at the 'University of Nebraska,' Pershing formed 'Company A,' which won the 'Maiden Prize' competition of the 'National Competitive Drills' in March 1892 and the 'Omaha Cup.' On October 2, 1894, former 'Company A' members established a fraternal military drill organization, which was renamed the 'Pershing Rifles' in 1895.
On October 20, 1892, Pershing was moved up to the post of “First Lieutenant.” In 1895, he was assigned to the '10th Cavalry Regiment' of 'Buffalo Soldier.'
In 1897, Pershing was appointed as an instructor of tactics at ‘West Point.’ His strictness and rigidity earned him the nickname "Nigger Jack."
As the regimental quartermaster of the '10th Cavalry,' “First Lieutenant” Pershing fought on Kettle and San Juan Hills in Cuba in the initial phase of the Spanish–American War. His service was honored with the 'Silver Citation Star' in 1919, which was upgraded to the 'Silver Star' in 1932.
He had also served during the siege and surrender of Santiago de Cuba.
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On August 26, 1898, Pershing was appointed as the major of 'United States Volunteers.' The following year, in March, after he recovered from malaria, Pershing was posted to the 'Office of Customs' and the 'Bureau of Insular Affairs.'
After an honorable discharge from the 'Volunteers,' Pershing returned to his permanent rank of the “First Lieutenant” on May 12, 1899. He reverted as a major of 'Volunteers' on June 6, 1899, but as an assistant adjutant general.
To suppress the Filipino Insurrection, Pershing was deployed to the 'Department of Mindanao' and 'Jolo' on August 17, 1899, during the Philippine–American War. From November 27, 1900, to March 1, 1901, Pershing served as an adjutant general of the department.
On June 30, 1901, Pershing was finally discharged from the 'Volunteers,' and he returned to the ‘Regular Army’ as a captain. He was promoted on February 2, 1901, and assumed his duties with the '1st Cavalry Regiment' in the Philippines.
Pershing later moved to the '15th Cavalry Regiment' as an intelligence officer and conducted a campaign against the Moros. In June 1901, he was appointed as the commander of ‘Camp Vicars' in Lanao, Philippines.
In June 1903, Pershing returned to the U.S. Soon, President Theodore Roosevelt recommended his promotion to the post of colonel, which the 'Army General Staff' declined.
In 1904, Pershing was posted to Oklahoma City as the assistant chief of staff of the 'Southwest Army Division.' In October, he attended the 'Army War College.'
Since Pershing's promotion was still on hold, Roosevelt petitioned the ‘Congress’ to approve a diplomatic posting. Pershing was hence posted as a military attaché in Tokyo in 1905. That year, he married the daughter of American senator Francis E. Warren. The union proved to be beneficial to Pershing's career, as the senator was influential.
From March to September 1905, Pershing served as an observer in the Russo–Japanese War. He then returned to the U.S. toward the end of the year.
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President Roosevelt finally had the chance to nominate Pershing for the post of brigadier general.
In 1908, Pershing had a brief stint as an American military observer in the Balkans and was then assigned to the Philippines again, where he served until 1913. He served as the commander of ‘Fort McKinley' and the governor of the Moro Province. He became an Episcopalian around the same time.
On December 20, 1913, Pershing was assigned to the '8th Brigade' at the ‘Presidio’ in San Francisco.
On March 15, 1916, Pershing organized and led the ‘Mexican Punitive Expedition’ to capture Mexican revolutionary general Pancho Villa, despite several limitations and lack of support from the former Mexican government. However, they failed to capture him.
In 1917, Pershing replaced his superior, Frederick Funston, as the commander of the 'American Expeditionary Force' (AEF), after Funston’s death on February 19, 1917. He served the 'Force' from May 10, 1917, to 1918.
Pershing insisted that the ‘AEF’ continue under his command as a single unit. He, however, allowed the integration of all-black units with the French army.
On October 6, 1917, Pershing became the first full general in the national army since Philip Sheridan in 1888.
Around the time of the Battle of Hamel, Pershing, for the first time in American history, allowed a foreign power to command American soldiers.
By May 1918, Pershing had been highly discontented with the ‘Air Service’ of the ‘AEF.’ Thus, he appointed his former ‘West Point’ classmate, Major General Mason Patrick, as the new chief.
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In August 1918, Pershing led the formation of the 'U.S. First Army.'
In October 1918, Pershing established the first 'U.S. Army MP School' at Autun, France, to create a dedicated 'Military Police Corps.' Following this, he was regarded as the founding father of the U.S. MPs.
In September 1919, to honor Pershing's distinguished service during World War I, the ‘U.S. Congress’ promoted him to the highest possible rank, the “General of the Armies,” a position that was created specifically for him.
Pershing was even authorized to create his emblem for the new rank. He chose to wear four gold stars for the rest of his career, which distinguished him from the army chiefs of staff, who wore four silver stars.
In 1919, Pershing established the 'Military Order of the World War,' an officer's community for World War I veterans. He joined the community in 1924.
Pershing was considered for the 1920 presidential run, which he refused. Though he was a ‘Republican,’ Pershing was known to advocate the policies of the ‘Democrat’ president Wilson.
During his tenure as the U.S. army chief of staff from 1921 to 1924, Pershing proposed the 'Pershing Map,' a national network of military and civilian highways. The map apparently inspired the 'Interstate Highway System' introduced in 1956.
On October 2, 1922, Pershing officially established the 'Reserve Officers Association' (ROA) in Washington, D.C. In 1924, he became a member of the 'Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the American Revolution,' where he introduced the 'Constitution Day' in the U.S. Pershing was inducted into the 'Society of the Cincinnati' and also became a 'Veteran Companion' of the 'Military Order of Foreign Wars.'
On September 13, 1924, Pershing retired from active military service.
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Pershing's memoir, titled 'My Experiences in the World War,' was awarded the 1932 'Pulitzer Prize' for history.
In 1932, Pershing's ‘Silver Citation Star’ was upgraded to the 'Silver Star.' In 1941, he was retroactively honored with the 'Army of Occupation of Germany Medal,' which had his profile on its obverse. With this, Pershing became the only soldier in the history of the U.S. army and one of four in the U.S. armed forces, to wear a medal with his profile on it.
The rank of the “General of the Armies” was furthered to World War II, and it was unofficially considered to be upgraded to a six-star rank. Unfortunately, Pershing died before the proposed badge could be considered.
In 1940, Pershing was honored with the 'Distinguished Service Cross' for his service in the Battle of Bud Bagsak.
On November 17, 1961, the 'U.S. Postal Service' released a 'Liberty Issue' postage stamp in honor of Pershing.
He was inducted into the 'Nebraska Hall of Fame' in 1963. Other civilian awards bestowed on Pershing were the 'Congressional Gold Medal,' the 'Thanks of the United States Congress,' the 'Distinguished Service Medal,' the 'American Legion,' and the 'Special Medal of the Committee' of the city of Buenos Aires.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Pershing married Helen Frances Warren in 1905.
On August 27, 1915, Pershing learned that his wife and three young daughters, Mary (aged 3), Anne (aged 7), and Helen (aged 8), had died in a fire accident in San Francisco. Only his 6-year-old son, Francis Warren, had survived.
Two years after Helen's death, Pershing dated Anne Wilson "Nita" Patton, the younger sister of his apprentice, George S. Patton. The two got engaged in 1917 but separated after Pershing left for World War I. He later regretted the separation.
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Pershing had also dated French–Romanian artist Micheline Resco (1894–1968), who had painted his portrait. She was 35 years younger than him. They got married secretly in 1946. The French government commissioned the portrait in September 1917.
Pershing's son, Colonel Francis Warren Pershing (1909–1980), had served in World War II and had later established a stock brokerage firm named 'Pershing & Company.'
Pershing died on July 15, 1948, due to heart failure, at the 'Walter Reed General Hospital' in Washington, D.C. He was buried in the 'Arlington National Cemetery,' beside the soldiers he commanded in Europe.
Pershing was portrayed by Milburn Stone in the 1955 film 'The Long Gray Line' and by Marshall Teague in the 1997 miniseries 'Rough Riders.'
He was a character in James Carlos Blake's novel 'The Friends of Pancho Villa' (1996) and in Larry Correia's 'Hard Magic: The Grimnoir Chronicles' (2011).
Facts About John J. Pershing

Pershing was known to have a fondness for gardening and spent his free time tending to his garden at his home in New Mexico.

Despite his reputation as a strict disciplinarian, Pershing had a soft spot for animals and was known to keep several pets, including dogs and horses.

Pershing was an avid reader and had a personal library filled with books on military history, strategy, and leadership.

In his later years, Pershing developed a passion for painting and often spent time creating watercolor landscapes inspired by his travels.

Pershing was a skilled horseman and enjoyed riding in his spare time, finding it to be a relaxing and therapeutic activity.

See the events in life of John J. Pershing in Chronological Order

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