Pershing, John J.

Pershing, John J. (Joseph)

(1860–1948) soldier; born near Laclede, Mo. Son of a railroad worker turned merchant, he graduated from West Point in 1886. After several years of cavalry service on the frontier, he taught military science (and fencing) at the University of Nebraska; he then went to teach at West Point, where he gained the nickname "Black Jack" because he had commanded a black cavalry unit in Montana. He left West Point to fight in Puerto Rico and Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898; from 1899 to 1903 he fought in the Philippines. Rising rapidly, he became a brigadier general in 1906, promoted over the heads of 800 senior officers. He spent the years from 1906 to 1914 in the Philippines; at his next assignment in San Francisco, his wife and three of his four children perished in a fire (1915). This left Pershing a grave and taciturn man, but he pursued his profession assiduously, leading the expedition against Pancho Villa (1916–17). On May 26, 1917, he became commander of the American Expeditionary Force and he led the buildup and training of American forces in France; against intense pressure from the British and French commanders, he also insisted that the American troops should remain intact as units to fight independently and with their own tactics. By September 1918, he launched the U.S. First Army against St. Mihiel in the first independent offensive by American forces; he then cooperated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive that led to the collapse of the Germans and the armistice. He returned to the U.S.A, and in September 1919 was named general of the army; he served as chief of staff until his retirement (1921–24). He served as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission and in several honorary diplomatic positions. His memoir, My Experiences in the World War (1931), won the Pulitzer Prize in history. Although too old to take any active role in World War II, he did consult with Chief of Staff George Marshall. A child in the Civil War, he was the first of the modern American generals, excelling in personnel, supply, and finance as well as battlefield tactics.