John J. Pershing
Alumnus, Class of 1880
John Joseph Pershing, born June 13, 1860 at Laclede, MO, was one of nine children born to John Fletcher & Ann Elizabeth (Thompson) Pershing. He was educated in the grade schools his father had helped establish in Laclede and at age 17 began teaching at the local Negro school. He later taught at Prairie Mound where he earned the money to attend First District Normal School (now Truman State University), Kirksville.
Pershing enrolled at The Normal in February 1879 and earned the two-year Bachelor of Elementary Didactics degree in June 1880. He then applied to the US Military Academy and after receiving his appointment, attended Highland Military Academy in New York for further preparatory work. He entered West Point in 1882 and graduated at age 26, receiving his commission as a Second Lieutenant with the Class of 1886. Described a tenacious but not brilliant student, he graduated toward the middle of his class of 87. He was recognized as a leader, however, and was elected President of his class and appointed Cadet Captain by the Academy Superintendent his senior year.
After graduation, Pershing was assigned to the 6th Cavalry and until 1891 fought Indians, including the Apaches led by Geronimo and the Sioux and Dakotas at Wounded Knee, in the western states. From 1891 to 1898, he was Professor of Military Science, first at the University of Nebraska (earning a law degree while there) then for a short while at West Point. At the out-break of the War with Spain, he was sent to Cuba to command the 10th Cavalry then in 1899, transferred to The Philippines to fight the Moros. He returned to the US in 1903 and spent next two years on staff duty in Washington, DC followed by a year as military attaché to the US Embassy in Tokyo. Japan.
In 1906, Pershing was given a rather controversial promotion from Captain to Brigadier General by President Roosevelt and sent back to The Philippines. His next assignment was to the Presidio in San Francisco and from there was posted to the US-Mexican border at El Paso where he and his troops were ordered into Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa. When the US entered World War I in 1917, he was promoted to full General and placed in command of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
At the close of the war, Pershing was given the rank General of the Armies, the only officer to ever receive this distinction. He returned to the US and occupied the office of Army Chief of Staff until his retirement in 1924. He spent the first few years after retirement writing his 2-volume autobiography. My Experiences in the World War was published in 1931 and was awarded the 1932 Pulitzer for History.
John Pershing and Frances Warren, daughter of Senator Francis E Warren of Wyoming, were married in Washington, DC January 26, 1905. They had four children, Helen Elizabeth, Anne Orr, Francis Warren & Mary Margaret. Mrs Pershing and the three girls were killed August 27, 1915, when their home at The Presidio burned to the ground. Warren, who was pulled from the house, was badly injured but survived. General Pershing died at Walter Reed Hospital on July 15, 1948 and after a state funeral was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Please Note: This biographical sketch has been compiled from secondary sources and may not be complete or totally accurate; it is therefore subject to update or correction.
Bray, Willis J. “General John Joseph Pershing”. Nemoscope 3:1 (Summer-Fall 1948).
John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing: General of the Armies of the United States. Arlington National Cemetery Website. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/johnjose.htm
US Army. Photograph #SC 73531