Duty in Action:  John “Black Jack” Pershing

By | September 12, 2020

[September 12, 2020]  Who was John “Black Jack” Pershing?  I remember my dad talking about how he met Pershing in Hot Springs, Arkansas, during the 1930s and how impressive and focused the retired Army General was at the time.  But John Pershing is, at best, an elusive figure in American history, where the fog of time obscured his accomplishments and demeanor.

If three words could condense the essence of Pershing, it would be “duty in action.”  He graduated academically 30th of 77 in his West Point class in 1886 but was selected as First Captain in cadet rank by the authorities and elected president of his class.1  A classmate of Pershing described him this way, “He always did his best in everything.”

Pershing was assigned to the 6th Cavalry in Apache country in the campaigns against the Apache chiefs and acquitted himself admirably. He devoted himself to learning the Indian dialects from the “tame” Indians, a task very few officers assumed as a duty obligation. On a winter march through the Dakotas, his troops were caught in a blizzard but had been provided for properly by Pershing.  Translation: meticulous and tireless attention to duty, reaching out beyond standard requirements.

He had been appointed an instructor at West Point when a year later, war with Spain broke out.  But his sense of duty compelled him to seek combat, and he went to Cuba with the 10th Cavalry.  His Brigade Commander declared Pershing as “the coolest man under fire I ever saw.”2  Secretary of War Elihu Root, said that he “found that Pershing was the rare officer who could carry out a directive and assume responsibility without buck-passing.”  Translation: he had good judgment and recognized his duty to accept responsibility.

In 1899 he sailed for the Philippines to campaign against the toughest jungle fighters in the world.  His campaign to pacify the fanatic Moros was a classic blend of force and restraint, patience, and harsh action, with compassionate human understanding.

When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Pershing was designated commanding general of forces to be sent to France.  His struggles to establish the integrity of the American Army in France were as great as his battlefield achievements.

A few comments:

  • One vital requirement of duty is loyalty to subordinates.
  • One’s duty goes far beyond what is written or given.
  • Duty is a lifetime responsibility that translates into everything we do or do not do.
  • Duty arises from a social system of ethics and morality.
  • Sacrifice of one’s own self-interest is predicated on one’s duty.

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  1. https://www.westpointaog.org/file/FirstCaptains.pdf
  2. Pershing was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “Duty in Action:  John “Black Jack” Pershing

  1. JT Patterson

    Great comments at the end. My favorite is the first one and one to never forget. “One vital requirement of duty is loyalty to subordinates.” Oh, loyalty goes both ways!

    Reply
  2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    A graduate of West Point, John J. Pershing (1860-1948) led a spirited life: serving as a cavalry officer in campaigns against Geronimo and the Sioux, fighting in the Spanish-American War and in the Philippines, and leading the expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico. But it was his role and performance as Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I that won him lasting acclaim.

    Reply
    1. Eric Coda

      On the eve of America’s entry into the conflict in 1917, Pershing found our military in abominable condition. But he didn’t whine about it, he did something about it.

      Reply
    1. apache2

      Hi Willie. It would be a good idea if Gen. Satterfield did a review of Pershing’s auto biography.

      Reply
      1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

        apache2, thank you for the recommendation. As you know, I like autobiographies because it tells us what a great person was doing and THINKING at the time. Understanding what they think is most important!

        Reply
    2. Lynn Pitts

      “My Experiences in the First World War” by John J. Pershing
      My Experiences in the First World War (1931) he describes that process, from the events leading up to his appointment to his arrival in Europe; from problems of supply and troop training to his meetings with Haig, Petain, Clemenceau, and Foch; from the fierce battles of Belleau Wood, the Marne, Chateau-Theirry, St. Mihiel, and Sedan to the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Written in a direct lucid style, this book provides a unique first-hand view, from headquarters to the trenches, of the struggle that humanity vainly hoped would be the “war to end all wars.”

      Reply
  3. Yusaf from Texas

    Thanks for another spot-on article, Gen. Satterfield. Today, I’ll be volunteering to help out at my local fire department. I’ll sweep floors if that is what they ask. Because sweeping floors is more useful that wearing a BLM t-shirt to show my disdain for America.

    Reply
  4. Big Al

    Great article, General Satterfield. Thanks. Oh, could you write an article on another of the great Greek commanders? I’m sure we all would like it.

    Reply
  5. Georgie M.

    Great man — fearless, smart, religious, and focused. Those are the characteristics that scare the crap out of liberals and Democrats. No surprise, Gen. Satterfield, that he is not seen much anymore as part of what made America great. Oh, I had a great day yesterday by attending three (yep 3) 911 memorial ceremonies.

    Reply
    1. Kenny Foster

      Hey Georgia, glad you were able to attend so many 9/11 ceremonies. I attended only one and there was a black couple struting around with a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on one and a I Can’t Breath one on the other. They are useful idiots for the new Marxist socialists of America.

      Reply
      1. Tom Bushmaster

        Wow, how ignorant can you be. I’m sure the police and firefighters there were not pleased as you were unhappy about it.

        Reply
      2. Newbie Yunger

        Typical of leftists in American who only want to steal from those who have worked hard and saved. Oh, for those who claim they only want to feed their kids, then explain why only high dollar items like tvs, jewelry, etc are being stolen but food stores are left untouched.

        Reply
        1. Jonathan B.

          Well said,,, they are dupes for Marxists who want to destroy America. Classic stupidity on public display (and proof is they don’t even know it).

          Reply
  6. Wendy Holmes

    Good job telling us about a great man who no longer is part of the history we are taught. Predictable that the liberal education system has ‘deleted’ him from our history. Why? Simple, he was a great man and leader.

    Reply

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