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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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

“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” honored with Sevareid Award

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Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” has been honored with an Eric Sevareid Award of Merit for documentary excellence by the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association.

The Eric Sevareid Awards are named for the North Dakota-born and University of Minnesota-educated journalist best known for his work as a correspondent for CBS Radio and Television.

Each year, the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association presents the awards to the best work done by broadcast news operations and journalists working in small, medium and large markets in a six-state region on radio, television and online. The six-state region includes Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” chronicle’s the life of World War I General John J. Pershing. It was directed by Bernard “Barney” McCoy, a professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. CoJMC professor of practice Luis Peon-Casanova was the documentary’s primary videographer.

The Broadcast Education Association also presented the documentary with an Award of Excellence this month at its national convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” is a co-production of Painted Rock Productions and NET, Nebraska’s PBS station. Production support for the documentary was provided by CoJMC, Humanities Nebraska, UNL’s Research Council, Lowell Vestal, Sandra Pershing, and the Hitchcock Foundation.

For more details contact: PershingLoveandWar@gmail.com


Black Jack Pershing: Love and War honored with Broadcast Education Association’s Excellence Award

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Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” has been honored with an Award of Excellence by judges in the Broadcast Education Association’s Festival of Media Arts documentary division competition. Producer/director Barney McCoy was honored with the award at the BEA’s 2018 convention in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday.

Here’s what the BEA judges said:

Judge 1: “This is to me an excellent historical account of the life of General Pershing. It is both factual and personal. To get both a sense of the drive and motivation that made him great and a sense of the person, the source of his values, the loves of his life and the heartbreaks he overcame was a delight. The director has created a valuable document detailing Pershing’s history that is both significantly deep but also approachable.“

Judge 2:Very professionally produced. Good story, very engaging. I enjoyed the entire film.”

Judge 3: “Great introduction, short and straight to the point. Leaving you with the feeling of wanting to learn more about the topic/subject. Amazing Archival footage and pictures with good quality. Narrator’s voice was clear and as a viewer was able to follow and understand and very clearly.”  

Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” producer/director Bernard “Barney” McCoy is a professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The competitive BEA festival received a record 1,541 entries in 15 competitions this year. BEA is the premier international academic media organization, driving insights, excellence in media production, and career advancement for educators, students, and professionals.

“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” chronicle’s the life of World War I General John J. Pershing. It was directed by Bernard “Barney” McCoy, a professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. CoJMC professor of practice Luis Peon-Casanova was the documentary’s primary videographer.

“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” is a co-production of Painted Rock Productions and NET, Nebraska’s PBS station. Production support for the documentary was provided by CoJMC, Humanities Nebraska, UNL’s Research Council, Lowell Vestal, Sandra Pershing, and the Hitchcock Foundation.

Screening of John “Black Jack” Pershing, May 17 at UNL Libraries

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

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Archives & Special Collections invites you to a screening and discussion of the award-winning documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” at 5:30 p.m. on May 17, 2018, in Love Library’s Lentz Room (LS218).

The hour-long documentary tells the story of General John J. Pershing, a Nebraska icon and commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of WWI’s armistice. Pershing was the only active duty six-star general in U.S. history.

After the screening, the documentary’s producer Barney McCoy will answer questions, discuss Pershing’s important legacy, and his important connection to Nebraska. McCoy, a professor in UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, spent five years conducting research on the project.

“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” is co-produced by Painted Rock Productions and NET, Nebraska’s PBS Station. It received funding from Lowell Vestal, Sandra S. Pershing, Humanities Nebraska, University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Research Council, and the Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation. Production support for the documentary was provided by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.


Through Pershing’s fatherly eyes

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WWI General John J. Pershing with his son Warren circa 1916-1917. Photo: Library of Congress

WWI General John J. Pershing deeply loved his son Warren. The proof, as we discovered, rests among letters written more than a century ago and preserved in Pershing’s personal papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Warren was the only survivor of the 1915 Presidio fire in San Francisco, California that killed his mother and three sisters. Warren wasn’t simply John Pershing’s son. He was the only remaining link to Pershing’s deceased wife Frankie and daughters Mary, Anne and Helen. General Pershing was so stunned by their deaths he would never speak or write publicly about them for the rest of his life.


Helen Frances (Frankie) Pershing with three of her and John Pershing’s children shortly before the 1915 Presidio fire that killed Frankie and the couple’s three daughters. Photo: Library of Congress

Twenty months after the Presidio tragedy, America entered WWI. General Pershing sailed to France as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. Some 4,500 miles away, Warren stayed with his aunts in Lincoln, Nebraska where the 7-year-old boy frequently received letters from his father who was now charged with the enormous task of directing what would soon become more than 2-million U.S. troops fighting a veteran German army in Europe.

The all-consuming danger and demands of the war meant it would be two years before Pershing would see his son again. To fill the void of distance, loneliness, and love for his son, Pershing frequently wrote Warren.

Pershingletter to warren 1In one letter, Pershing described his morning horseback ride to his son along the banks of the Marne River in France. “It is a beautiful river, and has a canal along its entire course,” Pershing wrote. “The banks of the canal are level and grassy, and frequently lined with trees,“ continued Pershing, who liked riding horses along the canal because of its beauty and soft soil that was easy on the horses’ “feet.”

The general ended his letter with words of tender longing: “The only thing that was lacking this morning in making my ride a complete joy was that you were not here to go with me. I often wish you were with me when I see beautiful things as I travel around the country. I would also like to have you with me always under all circumstances. I especially miss you at night…. With much love, Papa”

In March of 1918, Pershing encouraged Warren to practice his penmanship so his handwriting would become easier when he was a grown man. “There are lots of things I wish I had learned better when I was a little boy, as I might not have to work now.” wrote Pershing.

Pershingletter to warren 2In the letter, Pershing seemed wistful yet encouraging. “You know little boys’ school days pass very quickly. They do not seem to pass very quickly, but the first thing you know they are gone, then you are a man and you cannot go to school anymore because you have to work, and maybe you have a lot of other things to think about and do not get much time to study and learn to write. I think if you wrote letters oftener it would soon come quite easy for you. Try it and see,” Pershing wrote.

A few days later Germany launched “Operation Michael,” a massive spring offensive that sent besieged French and British troops into a hasty retreat and forced Pershing to commit ill-prepared American troops into major battle for the first time in the Great War. Germany gambled that its troops could smash through Allied lines, separate the French and British, seize the English Channel seaports, and drive the British army into the sea before rapidly growing American forces could help Allies reverse the battle tide against Germany.

In July, Pershing described to Warren the 4th of July celebration at his headquarters in Chaumont, France. “… the French soldiers and American soldiers joined in the celebration. We had a French band and an American band, and the park was just packed with people,” wrote Pershing.

Weeks earlier, there had been important but costly American victories in the battles of Belleau Wood and Cantigny. U.S. troops were now heavily involved in major combat operations against German troops with any Allied victory, much less an end to the fighting, was far from assured.

Perhaps Pershing remembered his own deceased daughters Mary, Anne, and Helen as he continued his description of the 4th of July celebration.

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General John J. Pershing visits with a young French girl during WWI. Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

“I received three beautiful bouquets. One was presented by the school children, one by the city and the other one by the army. Each bouquet was carried by a little boy and a little girl and when they gave me the flowers, I kissed each little boy and each little girl on both cheeks, according to the French custom.”

Pershingletter to warren 3

Pershing wrote that the men in the trenches did not celebrate much on this holiday, because a good deal of fighting was taking place. “I hope the next 4th of July will find us near a victory. I know how much this would mean to you and me,” Pershing wrote, “because it would bring you and me together, maybe.”

Pershingletter to warren 4aOn October 10th, with American troops locked into the 47-day Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, Pershing wrote Warren to describe the enormous efforts American troops were putting forth in France. “I want you to know while you are still a boy something of the fine patriotism that inspires the American soldiers who are fighting over here for the cause of liberty. They are fighting, as you know, against Germany and her Allies to prevent the rulers of Germany from seizing territory that does not belong to them and from extending their rule over the people of other governments who do not wish to be ruled by Germany.”

More than 1.5-million U.S. troops fought German forces in the 47-day Battle of the Meuse-Argonne.  The combined offensive pushes by U.S., British and French troops forced a German surrender and end to WWI. Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Pershing added that German troops had committed serious crimes “and for that we are also fighting in order to punish them.”

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General Pershing with son Warren and sisters May and Mary circa 1920 outside their home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo: Lincoln Journal Star

As he wrote his only son, perhaps Pershing reminded himself too why he believed it was important for American troops to be fighting in France.

Pershing hoped his son would someday visit the battlefields where war still raged. “It will enable you to realize later in life just what sacrifice means and just what degree of sacrifice our army is called upon to make and which they have made and are making bravely and courageously,” Pershing wrote.