John Joseph Pershing was born in Laclede, Missouri, on September 13, 1860. As a young child, he was exposed to the horrors of the Civil War. His home town of Laclede was raided by a band of Confederate Soldiers. Growing up, he never aspired to have a career in the military. He instead dreamed of one day studying law and becoming a lawyer. However, after his father experienced economic troubles in an economic depression during 1873, Pershing submitted an application to West Point Military Academy in hopes of a free education that could lead to law school later in life. Even upon accepting admittance to West Point, he did not intend to make a career out of the military, but once at the Military Academy, he quickly assimilated into the military lifestyle. He became his class president and he was the senior captain in charge of Cadets, which was the highest position attainable. He was known as a strict disciplinarian and leader among his peers (2).
Pershing graduated from West Point in 1886 and was assigned to the Sixth Calvary. In his first assignment, he was stationed in New Mexico and Arizona, leading troops in routine patrols to protect against the Apaches who had been led by Geronimo. Soon after, he was tasked with leading a campaign to eliminate threats from Lakota tribes in the Dakota Territory. An infamous conflict between the Lakota and the United States military occurred during Pershing’s time being stationed in the Dakota Territory at a site called Wounded Knee. A confrontation led to gunfire which resulted in between 200 and 300 Sioux men, women, and children being killed. Although Pershing did not lead the attack, he assisted in establishing the perimeter that kept the Lakota from fleeing. This unfortunate incident became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre (3).
Pershing was not known to be an exceptional academic student at West Point; however, he valued education and made it a priority in his life to further his own education. During his assignments in the West dealing with Native Americans, he learned some Apache dialects and the Plains sign language. He was known to stress the importance of learning all details about the enemy. He accepted a four year assignment as the professor of military science at the University of Nebraska, where he took classes to earn the law degree he had dreamed of as a youth in 1893 (3). At the University of Nebraska, he was said to have taken a group of undisciplined Cadets and transform them into “the best Cadet corps outside of West Point.” In the first year of Pershing being assigned as commandant of Cadets, his Cadets won the national drill competition in Omaha, Nebraska. His team of Cadets was later referred to as the Pershing Rifles (2).
In 1896 Lt. Pershing was assigned to the Tenth Cavalry which was an all-black regiment. During the Spanish-American War, he led his men in the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba. Pershing was remembered saying, “White regiments, black...