Happy Birthday, Black Jack

Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.

General John J. Pershing. General Headquarters, Chaumont, France., 10/19/1918 (111-SC-26646)
General John J. Pershing. General Headquarters, Chaumont, France, 10/19/1918 (111-SC-26646)

John “Black Jack” Pershing turns 150 today. Of the man there is too much to be said in a blog post like this—there was that whole bit as the leader of the American Expeditionary Forces with World War I, for example—and so picking one moment to highlight such an expansive career is impossible.

So, to round out the report on Pershing’s career, we’ve bulletized a short biography of a man whose life spanned more conflicts than nearly any other American soldier. Here are just a few reasons you should know about Pershing beyond World War I:

  • He witnessed the Civil War as a four-year old. In Missouri his father refused to take down the Union flag at the family store, causing skirmishes with raiders and Confederates.
  • He taught at an all-black school following the Civil War.
  • As a West Pointer he led a troop of cadets to see the funeral procession of Ulysses S Grant.
  • As an officer, he served in almost every Western state (North Dakota, Iowa, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and more).
  • He served in the 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers,” one of the first African American regiments established by Congress.
  • During the Spanish-American War, one of Pershing’s Buffalo Soldiers was the first to reach the top of Kettle Hill, the same peak that Teddy Roosevelt takes so much credit for ascending.
  • Pershing was one of the first Army officers to oversee forces in both the Pacific and Atlantic as he was put in charge of the Office of Customs and Insular Affairs, which oversaw occupation forces in Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.
  • He served as an attaché in Tokyo.
  • He served as an observer in the Russo-Japanese War.
  • Then went to the Balkans as an observer.
  • He held the highest rank of any living member in the military. Ever.
  • He got a big help in achieving that rank from Teddy Roosevelt, who promoted him straight from captain to brigadier general.
  • He was the governor of a province in the Philippines.
  • He mentored a young lieutenant while serving in Mexico: George S. Patton.
  • He was in charge of America’s first deployment of airplanes into combat during the Mexican Punitive Expedition. There were eight planes. Six crashed in the first month and the remaining two were declared unfit to fly.
  • He laid the groundwork for the Interstate Highway System, three decades before its creation.
  • He won the Pulitzer Prize.

Finally, after witnessing the Civil War and participating in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Punitive Expedition, and World War I; and after seeing the start and end to the Great Depression and World War II, Pershing passed away in 1948.

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