General John J. Pershing’s Nebraska connection

Today, WWI General John J. Pershing’s name is recognized by few Americans, even in Nebraska where an important part of Pershing’s life unfolded.

In 1891, Pershing arrived at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln where he led the cadet training program while attending law school until 1895.

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York College history associate professor Tim McNeese says John Pershing had the challenge of rebuilding a failing cadet corps when he arrived at the University of Nebraska in 1891.

York College history professor Tim McNeese  has written a book about Pershing’s life. McNeese said  when Pershing arrived at the University of Nebraska he found a cadet training program that was a mess.

By Nebraska state law, the university was required to have a cadet training program. But the university’s cadet program struggled- It had less than 100 members. Few of the cadets regularly attended cadet training sessions or drills.

“But it was just such an underrated, secondhand, nobody gave two hoots about the program. Students didn’t take it seriously, faculty couldn’t care less,” McNeese said.

Under Pershing’s command, McNeese said that changed. Pershing brought discipline to the cadets and helped turn the program around. “We’re going to take it seriously.” He starts getting the discipline required, “You better button up that coat. Why are your shoes not polished?,” said McNeese. “And all these farm boys were kind of, “Wait, wait, wait. Who’s this guy and what?” But they take to it, and they take to him.”

Within a year, 350 students joined Pershing’s UNL’s cadet corps. And in June of 1892, Pershing’s cadets were put to the test at a national drill competition in Omaha. The packed parade crowd included governors from several states, including Nebraska.

 

Pershing 1892 Great Photo at UNL with staff
First Lieutenant John Pershing with officers of the University of Nebraska Cadet Corps in 1892. Photo courtesy of Lincoln Journal Star Archives

When it was announced Pershing’s UNL cadets had won their maiden division and national competition, hundreds of UNL students and faculty charged the field to celebrate, and they were led by University of Nebraska Chancellor James Canfield.

Pershing UNL Commander
An 1892 photo of John Pershing when he commanded the Cadet Corps at the University of Nebraska. Photo: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library Archives

In 1895, Pershing’s time at UNL came to an end. Fueled by the friendships he formed in Lincoln, Pershing re-committed himself to the military. In honor of their recently departed Lieutenant, UNL’s elite drill team renamed itself “Pershing’s Rifles.”  Today 50 co-ed Pershing Rifles units exist across the United States and are known as the National Society of Pershing Rifles.

Black Jack Pershing: Love and War


The award-winning documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” tells the story of World War I General John J. Pershing’s life and the personal tragedy so painful Pershing could never speak of it.

Black Jack Pershing: Love and War – is an important, dynamic, entertaining documentary featuring a man and his life which was pivotal to America’s successful campaigns during World War 1. The story and history as developed by Barney McCoy adds to our understanding of American history accurately and poignantly, and exemplifies the power of filmmaking.  -Ron Hull, Nebraska Public Broadcasting

When America entered WWI in April of 1917 its military was hardly prepared for war. There were roughly 220,000 U.S. soldiers and officers. America’s troops initially lacked the training needed to effectively fight a veteran German army that used modern warfare tactics.

US Infantry In The Argonne Forest
In the fall of 1918, more than a million U.S troops fought German forces in the deciding WWI battle of the Meuse-Argonne in France. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

Germany’s high-powered artillery, poison gas, machine guns, fortified defensive positions and fighter planes exacted a heavy toll on U.S. troops. The Americans fought German troops with French, British, Canadian, Australian and other allied forces in deadly combat along 400 miles that comprised the Western Front.

General John J. Pershing was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to command the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. His nickname was “Black Jack.”

Commanding U.S. troops against overwhelming odds would be the greatest challenge of Pershing’s military career. Twenty months after America joined the fight, Pershing and two million troops helped turn the battle tide. Germany was forced to surrender on November 11, 1918.

Pershing June 1917 Library of France
General John J. Pershing arrived in France and is greeted by French Army officers in June of 1917. Photo: Library of France.

Black Jack_ John Pershing LW2018 (Promo) from CoJMC on Vimeo.

All rights reserved, 2017 Painted Rock Productions, LLC  

PershingLoveandWar@gmail.com

 

Images of U.S. troops in World War I

Pershing standing w injured soldier
General John J. Pershing visits with a wounded soldier in France. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Burying Americans
More than 50,000 Americans were killed and 206,000 wounded in the decisive WWI battle of the Meuse-Argonne. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Rickenbacker with plane
WWI American ace Eddie Rickenbacker. With 26 aerial victories, he was America’s most successful fighter ace in the war. He was also considered to have won the most awards for valor by an American during the war. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Meuse Argonne soldiers on wet road
The 47-day Battle of the Meuse-Argonne involved more than 1.2- million U.S. troops who fought German forces in France and helped force a German surrender on November 11, 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Pershing WS US troops
When the fighting ended in WWI, General Pershing commanded more than 2 million American troops who were fighting on European soil. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Meuse Argonne soldiers reading mail and newspapers
U.S. troops line up to collect their mail and read newspapers in France during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Motorcycle US soldiers
A U.S. Army motorcycle messenger in France in 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
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General John J. Pershing was the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces who joined fighting in WWI in 1917. Photo: Library of Congress
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General John J. Pershing during a visit to the front lines in France during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Pershing pins medal on US soldier
General John J. Pershing pins a battle medal on an American soldier during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Soldiers carry wounded through town
U.S. troops carry a wounded soldier through a battle-scarred French town during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
US soldier with mortar shell
Millions of artillery and mortar shells were fired and claimed hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the fighting in WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
US soldiers tank portrait
U.S. Army Signal Corps cameramen ride a tank in France in WWI. Signal Corps members risked their lives shooting film and photos during the war. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Medical soldiers portrait
Medical Corps members in France during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
US troops portrait captured town
American troops pose for a photo after capturing a French city from enemy German forces in WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
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World War I, also called the Great War, broke out in 1914 between the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and the original Allied forces of France, Russia and the United Kingdom. More than 70 million troops fought in the war.
Soldiers portrait in the field
U.S. soldiers during WWI combat operations along the Western Front in France in 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
US Troops in recaptured French town
U.S. troops march into a recaptured French town during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Soldiers artillery portrait
Members of a U.S. Army artillery battalion in France during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Combat US soldiers in field
Many of the American troops who fought in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne faced harsh weather conditions and German defensive positions that caused heavy casualties in the opening weeks of the 47-day battle. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
War loot US soldiers
American soldiers with captured war loot in France during WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Wounded US troops good photo
Wounded U.S. troops await transport to a field hospital during fighting in France in WWI. An estimated 323,000 Americans were killed or wounded in the war. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
WWI Soldiers NARA getting smokes
U.S. soldiers line up for free cigarettes in France during WWI. Tobacco’s association with the United States military started in World War I when tobacco companies began to target military personnel through the distribution of cigarettes to servicemen and the eventual inclusion of cigarettes into their rations. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Writing letters US soldiers home
American soldiers write home during a lull in combat during WWI in France. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
US nurses and soldiers portrait
U.S. nurses and soldiers pose for a photo at a field hospital in France in 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration