John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948), was a general officer in the United States Army who led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
Pershing’s military career started in West Point, where he was sworn in as a cadet in the fall of 1882. Before long he was promoted to first captain; the highest rank possible among cadets. He graduated in 1886, and joined troop L of the 6th US Cavalry as a second lieutenant in the same year.
In his early career he participated in several campaigns against the apache and other native Americans, and later on returned to West Point, not as a cadet, but instructor. He there earned his nickname Black Jack. This was due to his service with the 10th cavalry regiment, which was mainly consistent of African American Soldiers.
During the Spanish-American War, he distinguished himself commanding a black cavalry regiment at San Juan Hill before sailing to the Philippines in 1899. While there, his work as a second lieutenant allowed him in pacifying the fierce Moros on the island of Mindanao. His ability to combine force and diplomacy caught the eye of General Arthur MacArthur.
After serving a political function for Theodor Roosevelt as military attaché in Japan, he returned to the United Stated in 1905, where he was promoted to Brigadier General, skipping three ranks over the heads of 862 more senior officers. This was made possible due the approval of the US congress.
Shortly thereafter he lost his wife and children due to a tragic house fire. His son Warren was the only one that could be saved. Warren also joined the service and grew into honourable military service as well.
Pershing’s military career proceeded with leading a punitive raid against the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The mission was ill-equipped and even though they succeeded in routing the revolutionaries into Mexico, they failed to capture Villa himself.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson selected Pershing (Then major general) to command the American troops being sent to Europe. For this task he was promoted to full General in the national Army. Pershing was made responsible for the organization, training, and supply of a combined professional and draft Army and National Guard force that eventually grew from 27,000 inexperienced men to two Armies (a third was forming as the war ended) totaling over two million soldiers.
The AEF participated in numerous important battles such as the Battle of Cantigny, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and the Battle of St. Mihiel. General Pershing eventually cut the Germans’ lines at Sedan on November 6, 1918. He counted this as one of the AEF’s most important accomplishments. On November 11, 1918, World War I ended, due to the combined efforts of the AEF and the European allies. General Pershing and his men were celebrated as heroes.
In 1919 a special act of Congress honored General Pershing by naming him General of the Armies. This made him a 6-star General. He is the only person up to that time that got promoted to this rank, which is the highest authorized rank in the United Stated Army, signifying service directly under the US President. (A retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority.) This special honor allowed General Pershing to be on “active duty” for the rest of his life and continue to be available for assignments.
General Pershing served as Army Chief of Staff from 1921 to 1924. He later oversaw a commission to settle a boundary dispute between Chile and Peru, and he served as a consultant when the United States entered World War II. He also wrote a memoir, My Experiences in World War, which won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1932.
Pershing was regarded as a mentor by the generation of American generals who led the United States Army in Europe during World War II, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton.
On July 15, 1948, Pershing died in his sleep from complications of a stroke. His body lay in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, and an estimated 300,000 people came to see his funeral procession. He was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.