John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948) was a soldier in the United States Army. Pershing eventually rose to the highest rank ever held in the United States military, equivalent only to the posthumous rank of George Washington: General of the Armies. He was born near Laclede, Missouri and graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1886.
Early career and command
While serving in the 6th Cavalry, Pershing participated in several Indian campaigns. He was an instructor in military tactics at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln from 1891 to 1895.
In 1895, John J. Pershing took command of the United States Army's 10th Cavalry Regiment, African-American soldiers under white officers, in action against the Plains Indians. Pershing was an outspoken advocate of the value of "colored" soldiers in the US military.
In 1897, he later joined the tactical staff at West Point. While at West Point, cadets upset over Pershing's harsh treatment and high standards took to calling him "Nigger Jack" as a reference to his service with the 10th Cavalry. This was softened to "Black Jack" by reporters covering Pershing during the Great War.
During the Spanish-American War, Pershing fought with distinction at Kettle and San Juan hills in Cuba. He subsequently oversaw a series of expeditions against insurgents in the Philippines in 1899 during the Philippine-American War, and was stationed as military attaché in Tokyo in 1905. After serving as an observer in the Russo-Japanese War, he was returned to the Philippines as governor of the Moro Province in 1909.
6/28/1917-France: General Pershing lands in France as Commander of the A.E.F. The French Officer behind general Pershing is General Peletier, the civilian to the left is Monsieur Rene Besnard.
Under the command of General Frederick Funston, Pershing led the 8th Brigade on the failed 1916–17 Punitive Expedition into Mexico in search of the outlaw Pancho Villa. During this time, George S. Patton served as one of Pershing's assistants. While Pershing was stationed in Mexico, he suffered a devastating personal tragedy. At the Presidio military complex in San Francisco, his wife and three young daughters were burned to death in a house fire, only his six year old son Warren was saved. Many who knew Pershing said he never recovered from the dreadful loss.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson named Pershing to command of the American Expeditionary Forces, a post which he retained until 1918; he was responsible for the organization, training, and supply of an inexperienced force that eventually grew to over two million soldiers. On arriving in Europe during World War I, Pershing fought continual political campaigns to keep the AEF from being split up to augment British and French forces. During this time, George C. Marshall served as one of Pershing's assistants.
Pershing openly scorned the slow trench warfare of the previous three years on the Western Front, believing that to fight over a small area of no-man's land was very costly and senseless. Under his command, the American Expeditionary Force stuck to mobile warfare, relying on direct assaults on enemy positions as well as close-quarter shelling of targets.
Gen. John Pershing. General Headquarters, Chaumont, France. October 19, 1918.
The AEF's offensives at Meuse-Argonne and Saint-Mihiel in France were largely responsible for hastening the Allied victory and the German armistice; these successes were largely credited to Pershing, and he became the most celebrated American leader of the war.
In recognition of his distinguished service, the US Congress authorized the President to promote Pershing to General of the Armies of the United States, a rank only he held at the time (Lieutenant General George Washington was posthumously promoted to this rank by President Gerald Ford, and is the only officer in American history to outrank Pershing). Although Pershing outranked the five-star Generals of the Army, created in December 1944, Pershing never wore more than four stars.
There was a movement to make Pershing President of the United States. While he refused to actively campaign for the office, in a newspaper article he said that he "wouldn't decline to serve" if the people wanted him; this made front page headlines. However Pershing was a Republican Party member, and many Republican Party leaders considered Pershing too closely tied to the policies of Democratic Party President Wilson. The Republican nomination went to Warren G. Harding (see: U.S. presidential election, 1920)
"Black Jack" Pershing became Chief of Staff, United States Army, in 1921 succeeding Peyton C. March . He served until 1924.
His memoirs, My Experiences in the World War , were awarded the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for history.
In 1940, he was an outspoken advocate of aid for the United Kingdom during World War II. His image also appears on the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, created in 1941 in tribute to his leadership during the First World War.
John Joseph Pershing died on July 15, 1948 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near the gravesites of the soldiers he commanded in Europe.
In honor of Pershing's service, the Pershing missile and Pershing tank were named after him.
In addition, Pershing County, in the state of Nevada, is named in honor of Pershing. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad named a diesel engined streamliner train after him in 1939, the General Pershing Zephyr.