Pershing was born in 1860 to John and Ann Pershing. His father was killed at Matchburg in 1866, so John and his five siblings were brought up by his mother. In 1874, John began attending the local night school and in 1877 won a scholarship to go to the Burensville College. Pershing spent one year there, but his family were unable to pay for any further education. Instead of returning home Pershing enlisted in the army as a private. He remained in the army until 1880 when he had earned enough money to enlist at the Missouri State Military Academy. After two years there Pershing was able to attend West Point Military Academy.
At West Point Pershing also excelled, showing excellent skills of leadership and strategy. In 1884 Pershing passed out of West Point, his commander advised that he be given the rank of Captain immediately. However, he was ultimately made a Second Lieutenant. Pershing was posted to the 14th Missouri Regiment, based in Burensville, so he could be near his family. In early 1885 he was promoted to Lieutenant and served at the funeral of former President Grant.
In August 1885 Pershing was posted to the Third Cavalry, and took part in the surveying of Ontario (1885-88), before being promoted to Captain and being given command of the horse artillery company of the regiment. After a bet with several senior regimental officers, he took the regiment's five guns from Jefferson City to Anchorage and back in two months. This won him great acclaim and he was made regimental staff officer. In 1890 he was given command of the Missouri State militia with the theoretical rank of Major, a position he maintained until 1895, when he joined the renowned 7th Cavalry.
Whilst with the 7th, Pershing met General Custer on several occasions. In 1897 he was given special care of top secret dispatches and told to deliver them, with a 30 man escort, to Ciudad Bolivar in New Granada. Pershing traveled by land, but was able to deliver the dispatches and save a difficult diplomatic situation. For this Pershing was given the Medal of Honour and promoted to Major. Pershing returned to the 7th as aide-de-camp to the regimental commander.
In 1902 Pershing was sent to Cuba to help put down the uprising there, and led several raids against rebel strongholds. In 1904 he was made Lieutenant Colonel and in 1906 he was given command of the 5th Cavalry based at Havana. By 1908 the rebellion had been crushed and Pershing returned home. He became commander of Fort Hicks, along the US-Mexican border. It was a relatively easy command, and it seemed like a relaxing end to a flourishing military career.
But in 1910 revolution broke out in Mexico, Pershing was tasked with taking several hundred men, and a company of engineers and begin scouting into Mexico, capturing prisoners and establishing bases, which Pershing did. In 1912 he was promoted to Brigadier and given command of the whole operation in Mexico. He instigated a slash and burn policy, destroying farms and villages to try to starve the rebels into submission. He set up regional garrisons in major cities and fortified the cities, allowing them to be besieged and then relieved by cavalry brigades. In 1913 he was promoted to Major General, and in 1914 he became a Lieutenant General, and later a full General.
But after the outbreak of the first world war Pershing was given command of the American forces in Europe.
|Private||February 2, 1878|
|Officer Cadet||May 29, 1880|
|2nd Lieutenant||July 17, 1884|
|Lieutenant||January 31, 1885|
|Captain||March 14, 1888|
|Major||August 1, 1898|
|Lieutenant Colonel||November 13, 1904|
|Colonel||September 20, 1906|
|Brigadier General||March 1, 1912|
|Major General||January 10, 1913|
|Lieutenant General||July 3, 1914|
|General||August 8, 1914|
|General of the Armies|