Pershing, John Joseph (1860–1948), a United States army officer. He commanded the American Expeditionary Forces during the entire period of United States participation in World War I, 1917–18. In 1919 Congress created for Pershing the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, which he held for the rest of his life. Until 1976, when Congress granted the same rank to George Washington, Pershing was the highest-ranking officer in American history.
As commander in chief Pershing was greatly admired, rarely criticized, and little loved, although not actively disliked. A strict disciplinarian, he demanded “spit and polish,” even on the battlefield, yet showed sympathetic concern for the welfare of those under his command. Only his nickname “Black Jack,” which he is said to have disliked, seemed to humanize him to soldiers.
Pershing was born in Linn County, near Laclede, Missouri. He was graduated from the Missouri State Normal School at Kirksville in 1880, and taught school until he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He was graduated in 1886.
As second lieutenant of the 6th Cavalry Pershing served in expeditions against the Apaches in Arizona Territory, and led a troop of Indian scouts in the Sioux War of 1890–91 in South Dakota. He was military instructor at the University of Nebraska, 1891–95, and while there was graduated from the law school, and in 1892 became first lieutenant. Pershing returned to West Point in 1897 as instructor in tactics.
In the Spanish-American War Pershing served in the Santiago campaign in Cuba. In the Philippines, 1901–03, he subdued the fanatical Moros on Mindanao. In 1905 he married Helen F. Warren, daughter of Senator Francis E. Warren of Wyoming. Also in 1905, he was a military observer of the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria.
Pershing's dispatches from Manchuria and his record in the Philippines so impressed President Theodore Roosevelt that in 1906 he promoted him from captain to brigadier general, bypassing 862 senior officers. Pershing returned to Mindanao as department commander, and won a final victory against the Moros at Bagsag in 1913. On his return to the United States he was stationed at the Presidio, San Francisco, and was ordered to field duty on the Mexican border. In 1915, while he was away, fire destroyed Pershing's quarters at the Presidio, and Mrs. Pershing and their three daughters were burned to death. Only their son, Warren, survived.
In 1916 Pershing was ordered to lead a punitive expedition into Mexico to “pursue and disperse” the band of Villa, who had raided Columbus, New Mexico. During a 10-month campaign Pershing's troops had clashes with Venustiano Carranza's federal troops, but avoided becoming involved in war. Villa was not caught, but his band was never again a threat.
Named to command the A.E.F. in World War I, Pershing arrived in France on June 13, 1917. He was given the rank of general, National Army, a temporary appointment. Pershing insisted on building up a separate American army, despite constant pressure from the British and French to incorporate his troops into their own units as replacements. However, when the German attack of March, 1918, broke through Allied lines, he turned over his full force to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, supreme Allied commander. Pershing planned the counterattack at the Marne in July. The U.S. 1st Army was organized for the St. Mihiel offensive in September. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, undertaken at the request of Foch, upset German defenses at the most sensitive point.
Pershing was chief of staff of the army, 1921–24, then retired from active service. He was appointed by President Coolidge as chairman of a commission to arbitrate the Tacna-Arica dispute between Peru and Chile. Pershing also was chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission. He wrote My Experiences in the World War (1931), which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for history.