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John Joseph Pershing

John Joseph Pershing

John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948) was commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I.

John J. Pershing was born at Laclede, Mo., on Dec. 13, 1860. He graduated from West Point in 1886 with an outstanding record. Assigned to the cavalry, he campaigned against the Apache Indians in the Southwest. From 1891 to 1895 he was a military instructor at the University of Nebraska, where he earned a law degree in 1893. During the Spanish-American War he served with great distinction in the campaign around Santiago, Cuba. In 1899 Pershing went to the Philippines. He served in Mindanao for 4 years during the Philippine insurrection, and his help in suppressing the Moro revolt earned the praise of President Theodore Roosevelt. The President then recommended his promotion to brigadier general despite his low seniority; the appointment, delayed for 3 years, was finally confirmed in 1906.

Meanwhile, Pershing gained valuable experience as military attaché in Tokyo and as an observer of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). In 1906 he returned to the Philippines, holding important commands there until 1914, when he assumed command at the Presidio in California. In 1915, while he was away on special assignment, his wife and three daughters perished in a tragic fire; only his son survived.

Pershing's next assignment, intensely difficult and frustrating, made the general an important public figure: he commanded the "punitive expedition" sent into Mexico during 1916 to chastise the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. Despite his failure to capture Villa, Pershing gained considerable public commendation for his careful adherence to instructions and his dedication to duty. The expedition was withdrawn early in 1917, just prior to the American entry into World War I. Pershing was now a thoroughly experienced troop commander, although he had never held an important staff position in the War Department. A reserved and hard-bitten soldier, known as "Black Jack" to his troops, he gained their respect if not their affection.

Service during World War I

In May 1917 President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker chose Pershing to command the American Expeditionary Force going to Europe in support of the Allies. Arriving in France during June, Pershing immediately began planning the organization and employment of a large American army. Pershing decided to create an independent American force commanded by its own officers with its own support echelons in a distinct sector in France. In choosing this course, he challenged various European leaders who favored "amalgamating" American troops by small units into European armies as replacements.

For over a year, despite ever-growing military crises in France, Pershing single-mindedly pursued his idea of an independent American army and in this process gained the support of the War Department and President Wilson, overcoming efforts by Allied leaders to force various forms of amalgamation. Pershing argued that national pride dictated the formation of an independent force. He also claimed that the United States could make its most effective contribution to victory by following his course.

Western Strategy

Pershing also committed himself to the "Western strategy"—the view that the Western coalition should concentrate most of its military power in France against the principal enemy, Germany, rather than expend energy in secondary theaters such as Mesopotamia or Macedonia against lesser foes such as Turkey or Bulgaria. Pershing looked with jaundiced eye upon diversionary projects in Russia and elsewhere because such endeavors seemed certain to vitiate the effort in France, where he believed the war would be won or lost.

Pershing's plan required a huge program of mobilization and training for American troops in the United States. Several million men would have to be transported to France where, after additional training, they would be maneuvered as a separate force under his command. One drawback was the limited supply of shipping, a consequence of the need to supply the Allies in the face of Germany's great undersea campaign against noncombatant vessels. In late 1917 the British and French sought to trade shipping for amalgamation, but Pershing successfully resisted, even after Germany's great "end-the-war" offensive in March 1918. The Allies helped provide shipping sufficient to transport over 2, 500, 000 American troops to France. Still, Pershing's force had to depend heavily on European arms and equipment.

Although some American units participated in battles under French or British command during the summer of 1918, it proved impossible to employ the American army as an independent unit until September, when it attacked and reduced the great German salient at Saint-Mihiel. Pershing wished to attack ahead from that position, but French marshal Ferdinand Foch, who had become generalissimo, persuaded him to shift his forces northward into the Meuse-Argonne sector in order to participate in the final assault against the crumbling German army.

For some 47 days, beginning on Sept. 26, 1918, Pershing sustained the offensive in exceedingly difficult terrain. Eventually the battle was won, but heavy casualties, problems of command, and logistical difficulties lent some substance to earlier European doubts about the Americans' ability to develop optimal combat efficiency in a relatively short time. The bravery and determination of the American "doughboys" ultimately compensated for lack of experience and proper organization. When Germany sought peace in October, Pershing advocated unconditional surrender, but President Wilson overruled him and supported an early armistice. The sudden end of hostilities on November 11 deprived Pershing of the opportunity to prove the full mettle of the American army and to vindicate his policies in battle.

Last Years

In 1919 Pershing returned to a hero's welcome and to the rank of general of the armies, the highest title ever accorded except to George Washington. In 1921 he became chief of staff and presided over important reforms in the War Department. He left active service in 1924 but continued to perform important duties, first as chairman of the commission to South America to administer the Tacna-Arica plebiscite (1925) and then as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission that cared for military cemeteries in France. In 1931 he published a two-volume work entitled My Experiences in the World War, which earned a Pulitzer Prize (1932). He died in Washington, D.C., on July 15, 1948, one of the most honored soldiers in American history.

Further Reading

Biographies of Pershing include Richard O'Connor, Black Jack Pershing (1961), Harold McCracken, Pershing (1931), and Frederick Palmer, John J. Pershing (1948). See also Army Times, ed., The Yanks Are Coming (1960). □

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Pershing, John J.

Pershing, John J. (1860–1948), commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1886.Cavalryman Pershing served in various Indian campaigns in the West and then became professor of military science at the University of Nebraska in the 1890s, where he took a law degree and thought of another profession. But he stayed in the army and in the black Tenth Cavalry.

Staff assignment to army headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1896 was followed by appointment to the tactical staff at West Point in 1897. There, Pershing's discipline and his African American regiment earned him the nickname “Black Jack” among the cadets.

In the Spanish‐American War, Pershing distinguished himself in Cuba. Sent to the Philippines in 1899, he led important expeditions against hostile Moros. In 1905, Captain Pershing became military attaché in Tokyo and observed the Russo‐Japanese War.

These services induced President Theodore Roosevelt to promote Pershing to brigadier general in 1906. Becoming governor of the Philippine Moro province in 1909, he subdued the warlike people by 1913. While at Fort Bliss, Texas, Pershing lost his wife and three daughters in a fire at San Francisco's Presidio, 27 August 1915—only his son, Warren, survived.

Throwing himself into work, Pershing led the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Francisco (Pancho) Villa's irregulars in March 1916. Pershing did not capture Villa but did drive away his bands and restore peace to the border. In February 1917, Major General Pershing and his troops were withdrawn from Mexico.

With America's entry into World War I, April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson bypassed several more senior officers and selected Pershing to command the American Expeditionary Forces. Given wide authority by Wilson and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, Pershing was to build a separate American army as soon as possible.

Pershing's duties in France were heavily managerial. He had to organize, train, and supply an army that finally numbered more than 2 million men. He waged two wars—one against the Germans, the other against Allies who tried always to siphon his men into their woefully depleted ranks. Pershing stressed “open warfare” tactics in training, as opposed to the trench warfare favored by the Allies. Historians argue whether he was right, but when the western front broke open in late 1918, events seemed to validate his program. There is no doubt that his discipline, organization, and iron will made the AEF a vital factor in the final victory. Pershing thought the Allies should push on to Berlin, convince Germany of defeat, and perhaps forestall another war, but he accepted Wilson's decision for an armistice in November 1918.

Congress created the rank of “General of the Armies” for Pershing in 1919. Pershing accepted a five‐star insignia but declined the option of wearing it. He served as chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1921 until his retirement from the service in 1924.
[See also Academies, Service: U.S. Military Academy; Army, U.S.: 1900–41; World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

John J. Pershing , My Experience in the World War, 2 vols., 1931; repr. 1995.
Donald Smythe , Guerrilla Warrior: The Early Life of John J. Pershing, 1973.
Frank E. Vandiver , Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing, 2 vols., 1977.
Donald Smythe , Pershing: General of the Armies, 1986.

Frank E. Vandiver

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Pershing, John Joseph

John Joseph Pershing (pûr´shĬng), 1860–1948, American army officer and commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, b. Linn co., Mo. After graduating (1886) from West Point he served as a cavalry officer in campaigns against the Native American chief Geronimo (1886) and against the Sioux (1890–91). He was (1891–95) an instructor in military tactics at the Univ. of Nebraska, where he earned (1893) a law degree. He later taught (1897–98) at West Point. After fighting (1898) in the Spanish-American War, Pershing achieved national notice when he served (1899–1903) in the Philippines, commanding in the campaign against the hostile Moros (Muslim Filipinos) on Mindanao island. He was (1905) an American military attaché in the Russo-Japanese War and was promoted (1906) from captain to brigadier general. Again serving in the Philippines from 1906 he completely defeated the Moros in 1913. Pershing led the much-publicized but unsuccessful punitive expedition (1916–17) against Francisco ( "Pancho" ) Villa in Mexico. After U.S. entry into World War I, Pershing was appointed (1917) to head the American Expeditionary Force in France. His talent for organization was largely responsible for the molding of hastily trained American troops into well-integrated combat units. The Allied military leaders had hoped to use U.S. troops as replacements for the heavy French and British losses, but Pershing insisted that the Americans operate as a separate force under his command. His two books Final Report (1919) and My Experiences in the World War (1931) recount his war years. After the war he was promoted (1919) to permanent general of the armies of the United States. He was (1921–24) chief of staff before retiring from the army in 1924. He later served (1925) on the plebiscite commission in the Tacna-Arica Controversy.

See biographies by H. McCracken (1931), F. Palmer (1948, repr. 1970), R. O'Connor (1961), F. E. Vandiver (2 vol., 1967–77), and D. Smythe (1973); G. Smith, Until the Last Trumpet Sounds (1998).

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Pershing, John Joseph

Pershing, John Joseph (1860–1948) US general. Pershing led a punitive expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico (1916) before being appointed to command the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in World War I (1917–19). Returning a hero, he later served as army chief of staff (1921–24). A US surface-to-surface nuclear missile is named after him.

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.com/johnjose.htm

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