Pershing, John Joseph

Pershing, John Joseph pûrˈshĭng [key], 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, but his understanding of combat conditions on the Western Front was in the main uninformed. 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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