John Joseph Pershing was born near Laclede, Missouri, on September 13, 1860. After graduation from West Point, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the 6th Cavalry and took part in the Apache campaign in New Mexico and Arizona in 1886 and against the Sioux in 1890 and 1891. He served as a military instructor at the University of Nebraska (1891-1895) and West Point (1897-1898). During the Spanish-American War, he served with the 10th Cavalry in the Santiago campaign and became a major of volunteers.
After the war, he reverted to his previous rank of captain in the 1st Cavalry. Sent to Japan as an observer during the Russo-Japanese War, Pershing accompanied Kuroki's army in Manchuria. He was promoted from captain to brigadier general by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. While commanding the 8th Brigade at the Presidio of San Francisco, his wife and their three daughters died in a fire at the Presidio. His son Warren escaped. In March 1916, Pershing led a punitive expedition into Mexico in response to the raid by Pancho Villa on Columbus, New Mexico and was promoted to major general.
In 1917 Pershing was made commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Forces with the temporary rank of general, establishing his headquarters at Chaumont. From the beginning, Pershing insisted on carrying out his orders to form a separate American army, despite Allied opposition, although permitting American troops to be trained with the Allies and to fight in the March 1918 emergency. He also insisted on training for open warfare instead of trench stalemate. He led the First Army in the St. Mihiel offensive (September 12-16, 1918), turning over command to Lt. General Hunter Liggett during the Meuse-Argonne battle.
In 1919 Pershing was awarded the unique rank of general of the armies of the United States. After becoming chief of staff in 1921, he retired in 1924. He was ambassador to Peru in that year. Perhing's books include Final Report (1919) and My Experience in the World War (1931).
He died at Washington, D.C. on July 15, 1948.