Wednesday, May 17, 2017

100 Years Ago: General John J. Pershing Appointed Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces

One hundred years ago this week, Secretary of War Newton Baker notified John J. Pershing that he would command the American Expeditionary Forces to Europe. The appointment was made public four days later.  His résumé at the time made him to the best-qualified America soldier to lead the mission.  Here are some of the key moments in Pershing's storied career.

13 September 1860

Young Pershing

Born at home Laclede, Missouri, in Linn County, son of a railroad section boss. The family was of Alsatian origins, originally spelling their name "Pfirsching."


To help the family finances which were still reeling from the depression of 1873, JJP begins teaching at a Negro school in Laclede. He gains a reputation as a firm disciplinarian.


Moves to Prairie Mound school district ten miles away.


Finishes first out of 16 in competitive examination for an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point.

June 1882

After attending a tutoring academy run by former Confederate officer Colonel Caleb Huse for six months, JJP enters the academy.

June 1886

JJP graduates as First Captain, ranking 30th in his class. 

September 1886

2nd Lt. Pershing reports for duty with 6th Cavalry at Fort Bayard, New Mexico. Participated in the tragic Wounded Knee campaign.

Lt. Pershing Commanding a Company of Sioux Scouts


Assigned to the University of Nebraska as military science professor where he serves for four years meeting future U.S. vice-president and subordinate general officer, Charles Dawes. He studies the law at Lincoln.


Various cavalry assignments in the West, including the 10th Cavalry, the black Buffalo Soldiers.


Assistant instructor of tactics at West Point. It was at West Point that he receives his nickname "Black Jack." The actual sobriquet was cruder and not at all complimentary.

May, 1898

JJP re-assigned back to the 10th Cavalry as quartermaster.

In Cuba with Future President Theodore Roosevelt

1 July 1898

With 10th Cavalry in assault on San Juan Hill in Cuba where he is photographed with Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt. JJP is singled out by his commander, Lt. Col. T.A. Baldwin, a Civil War veteran, as "the coolest man I ever saw under fire..."

Fall 1899

JJP sails to the Philippines where he is assigned to the Eighth Army Corps. His mission was mainly to subdue the combative Moro tribesmen. Eventually promoted to captain. He serves as an adjutant, engineer, customs officer, and cavalry commander.


After returning to Washington for service with the War Department, JJP meets Frances Warren, daughter of Wyoming senator Francis E. Warren

26 January 1905

Frances and JJP marry at the Church of the Epiphany and hold their reception at the Willard Hotel in Washington.

14 February 1905

Capt. & Mrs. Pershing sail for JJP's new duty, military attache in Tokyo.

March–September, 1905

Serves as observer to Russo-Japanese War.

September 1906

First of four Pershing children, Helen Elizabeth, is born; President Roosevelt gives Captain Pershing a jump to brigadier general over 862 senior officers to command the Department of California and Fort McKinley.


Back in the Philippines, JJP leads successful assault on Moro stronghold at Mount Bagsak, Island of Jolo. Subsequently writes the adjutant general that he did not believe he was entitled to the Medal of Honor for which he was being considered. Served as governor of Moro Province and, later, commander of Mindanao.


JJP takes command of the Presidio of San Francisco and the 8th Brigade. Subsequently the brigade is assigned to the Mexican border with Pershing second-in-command to Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston.

Pershing's Family—All But Son Warren Would Perish in the Presidio Fire

August 1915

Frances and all three Pershing daughters die in a fire at the Presidio. JJP returns to San Francisco to attend the funeral and arrange for bringing his surviving son Warren to Fort Bliss in Texas.

9 March 1916

Pancho Villa raids Columbus, New Mexico. Within days Pershing is sent with a force of nearly 10,000 in pursuit of the bandit.

February 1917

After ten frustrating months, U.S. president Wilson and Mexican president Carranza reach an understanding and the punitive expedition is sent home. Meanwhile, Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare and America starts down the final path to World War.

6 April 1917

The United States declares war on Germany.

10 May 1917

JJP, recently made a major general after the death of his immediate superior, Frederick Funston, is called to Washington. At 10:30 a.m, Secretary of War Newton Baker informs him that he is to command the American troops to be sent to Europe.

19 May 1917

President Wilson instructs JJP "to proceed to France at as early a date as practicable."

28 May 1917

JJP and staff leave for Europe aboard White Star liner Baltic.

8 June 1917

JJP arrives in Liverpool, England.

June 1917–September 1919

In France as Commander of the American Expeditionary Force

Pershing Between Marshal Foch and Mrs. & Marshal Joffre

1 September 1919

With Marshal Foch personally bidding him adieu, JJP departs for home aboard the liner Leviathan.

8 September 1919

JJP arrives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

17 September 1919

JJP leads a victory parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Two days later he addresses a Joint Session of Congress.

1 July 1921

JJP named Army Chief of Staff


JJP appointed to the newly formed American Battle Monuments Commission by President Warren G. Harding, and was elected chairman by the other members. He served as chairman until his death in 1948. 

13 September 1924

On his 64th birthday, JJP retires from the Army. The night before, he had become the first chief of staff to address the nation coast-to-coast on the radio.

General Pershing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

13 May 1937

JJP attends the opening of the Meuse-Argonne Monument on Montfaucon culminating his post-army active leadership and ongoing support for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

February 1938

While vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, JJP is stricken with a severe coronary/renal ailment and lapses into a coma. He subsequently makes a near-miraculous recovery, and the planning for his funeral is halted. 


Pershing warns that the United States active and reserve forces were no longer adequate. He makes his last visit to the cemeteries and memorials in France just before World War II begins.


In declining health, JJP takes up permanent residence at Walter Reed Hospital. There he receives distinguished visitors and his former subordinates heading off to fight another war, while occasionally making quotable observation about the military situation.

General of the Armies John J. Pershing
Lying in State at the Nation's Capitol

15 July 1948

General of the Armies John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces of World War I dies in the early morning hours. He is buried at Arlington with his men, beneath a standard gravestone.

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