11 things you probably didn’t know about John J. Pershing

11 things you probably didn’t know about WWI General John “Black Jack” Pershing from CoJMC on Vimeo.


Youngest pershing
A young John Pershing from his childhood days in Laclede, Missouri. Photo: Library of Congress

1. Pershing’s hometown of Laclede, Missouri, was invaded by Confederate bushwhackers just before his 4th birthday. The guerillas were hunting for his father, who flew the Union flag above his general store.

2. Before entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1882, Pershing taught African-American students at Prairie Mound School in Missouri.

3. In 1885, Pershing was promoted to first lieutenant and became one of the first white officers to command African-American soldiers in the 10th Cavalry. His nickname originated from his command of the segregated regiment but later came to signify his stern demeanor.


4. In 1898, Pershing led 10th Cavalry Buffalo soldiers up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. Pershing’s gallantry in the Battle of San Juan Hill caught the attention of Teddy Roosevelt, who also fought his way up San Juan Hill with his “Rough Riders” regiment. After Roosevelt became president, he promoted Pershing to brigadier general over 800 more senior officers.

Pershing Buffalo_soldiers1 (1)
John Pershing commanded African-American Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry in Montana in 1886 and again in the Spanish-American war in the late 1890’s. The bravery and courage shown by the men of the Tenth Cavalry earned them Pershing’s respect and admiration. He often praised the black soldiers to others, an unusual thing to do at the time.

5. For much of the early 1900’s, Pershing served in the Philippines. There he commanded U.S troops in several Moro Rebellion battles involving warring Moro (Muslim) tribes. Before Pershing returned to the United States in 1913, he was military governor of the southern Philippines’ Moro Province.

Composite Philippines
Pershing spent more than a decade commanding U.S. troops against Muslim Moro rebels in the Philippines during the early 20th century. During that time Pershing was promoted to brigadier general and later served as governor of the Philippine’s Moro province.

6. In 1915, Pershing’s wife, Frances, and three daughters perished in a fire at the Presidio in San Francisco. At the time, Pershing was patrolling the Mexican border against a rumored invasion by Mexican Revolutionary General Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Pershing’s son, Warren, was the fire’s only survivor. The boy subsequently was cared for by Pershing’s sisters who lived in Lincoln, thus continuing the general’s connection to Nebraska.

In 1915, Pershing’s wife Frances and the couple’s three daughters, Mary, Ann and Helen, died in a house fire at the Presidio in San Francisco. At the time, General Pershing was stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas.  The Pershing’s 5-year-old son Warren was the fire’s only survivor. John Pershing was so devastated by the tragedy he never spoke publicly about it for the rest of his life. Photo: San Francisco Public Library

7. After World War I, Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies and became the only active-duty six-star general in U.S. history. George Washington also was a six-star general but wasn’t given the promotion until the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.

8. In 1932, Pershing won the Pulitzer Prize for history for his two-volume book set, “My Experiences in the World War. In his acceptance speech, he recognized 1922 Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather – who was his mathematics student when he taught at Nebraska.

9. Pershing was a mentor to a generation of U.S. Army generals who led the United States in World War II. They include George S. Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley. Pershing Mentor

10. In 1946, at 85, Pershing secretly wed French-Romanian portrait artist Micheline Resco in his Walter Reed Hospital apartment. Resco was 35 years his junior. The couple met in Paris in 1917 when Pershing arrived to command troops and exchanged love letters over 30 years.

French artist Micheline Resco was more than 30 years younger than Pershing when the couple first met in 1917. They were secretly married 29 years later about two years before Pershing’s 1948 death.

11. While at Nebraska, Pershing earned a law degree, taught mathematics and formed a crack drill team that later became the nationally known Pershing Rifles. He also taught fencing to future bestselling authors Willa Cather and Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Pershing 1892 Great Photo at UNL with staff sm

  1. *Thanks to UNL Communications writer Leslie Reed who helped produce this blog post. 

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