“Black Jack” Pershing

Today in History, March 16, 1916:

Misconceptions. US General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing leads a force south across the border with Mexico to assist in the chase of Mexican rebel Pancho Villa.

I knew this. I also knew that Pershing served as the commanding US General during WWI. What I didn’t know? He was born during the Civil War, was a leading cadet during his time at West Point…leading the contingent at the funeral of Ulysses S. Grant.

He fought Apaches and Sioux during his career.

He served in the 10th US Cavalry, the famous “Buffalo Soldiers”, or the original African-American soldiers (we had a Buffalo Soldier that came to the City Hall cafeteria routinely before his passing…what an honor).

The surprise for me was that I thought “Black Jack” was because he was seen as a pirate or a gambler…instead the cadets he supervised while a strict instructor at West Point hated him, and because he served in an African-American command, they called him “N****R Jack”….later amended to “Black Jack”…and it stuck.

He served in that same regiment as they charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, then served in the Philippines. Roosevelt took a liking to him, appreciating his abilities, and made him an envoy to Tokyo in 1905…so he served as an observer to the Russo-Japanese War, then received his generalship by appointment by TR.

In 1915 Pershing was commanding the Presidio in San Francisco when his regiment was reassigned to Ft. Bliss, Texas because of the problems with Mexico.

After a year there, he sent for his family to join him…only to find out that his wife and three daughters had died in a house fire at the Presidio…leaving only his young son to join him.

After his exploits in Mexico, along with young George S. Patton, he would become the commanding General of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during WWI, becoming the mentor to the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley and many others. What a life!

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