They retaliated with a smear campaign about his sex life in the Philippines, claiming he had had a series of native women as mistresses and had sired several children. He denied everything, but the scandal stained his reputation so badly that, six years later, newspapers howled when he was proposed as superintendent of West Point. Marrying influential daughters was an old army custom.
Nelson Miles had married the daughter of Senator John Sherman, who was the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman and the most powerful senator of his day. On August 27, , while Pershing was patrolling the restive Mexican border against guerrilla incursions, an excited reporter called headquarters and got the general himself. Only his six-year-old son, Warren, had survived, saved by a courageous orderly. Pershing seemed to deal with his sorrow through work, responsibility, the grinding details of duty.
Another is the very strong probability that he thought he was the best man for the job. He wrote a similar letter to Secretary of War Newton D. There was only one other major general who could compete with Pershing for the job: Frederick Funston. He had won instant fame by capturing rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo and crippling the Philippine insurrection in On February 19, , Funston dropped dead in the lobby of a San Antonio hotel—perhaps another instance of Pershing luck.
In early May Pershing got the job-leaping over five major generals senior to him. What he found in Washington, D.
The U. Army had little more than 11, combat ready regulars. The ,man National Guard was a joke. Fully half its members had never fired a rifle. Hugh Scott, the aging chief of staff, frequently fell asleep at meetings with his officers. French and British missions swarmed to American shores to deluge the War Department and the president with frantic pleas for men. Pershing, or any other American general. The British suggested that the half-million recruits be shipped directly to depots in England, to be trained there and sent to France in British uniforms, under British officers.
The French were a bit more polite, but it came down to the same thing: They wanted American soldiers to become part of their army. From the day he heard the idea, Pershing opposed amalgamation of forces. He had no intention of becoming superfluous in France. Bliss—the large, slow moving military politician who soon succeeded Scott as chief of staff agreed with him.
As an observer in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War in , Pershing had seen a modern battlefield, and he did not think there was room on it for amateurs like TR. He may also have sensed, with his finely honed instinct for command, that there could be only one American leader in Europe. Pershing saw himself not only as that American leader but as the general who could win the war. Three weeks after his appointment, Pershing sailed for Europe with a man staff.
In London, people liked what they saw. On the balcony overlooking the place de la Concorde, when the wind whipped a tricolor toward him, Pershing reverently kissed its folds. The crowd screamed its approval.
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Inside, he got a very different reception. In April, after a disastrous offensive on the Aisne River that cost , casualties, the French army had mutinied. Russia, with its immense reservoir of manpower, was even closer to military collapse. The March revolution, which ousted the czar, had failed to add vigor or coherence to their army. More bad news soon arrived from the British front, where Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig was in the process of squandering , men on futile attacks in the Ypres salient.
Pershing soon decided he could not rely on the General Staff in Washington for anything; it took weeks to get a reply from anyone. Tasker Bliss was still writing orders with the stub of a pencil and hiding urgent telegrams under his blotter while he made up his mind what to do about them.
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Pershing set up his own general staff in France—a far more efficient one than the fumbling team in Washington. For his chief of staff, Pershing chose Major James Harbord. Harbord kept a voluminous diary, from which we get a good picture of Pershing on the job. He thinks very clearly. He can talk straighter to people when calling them down than anyone I have ever seen. He loses his temper occasionally, and stupidity and vagueness irritate him more than anything else.
He develops great fondness for people whom he likes. He does not fear responsibility. He decides big things much more quickly than he does trivial ones. Two weeks ago, without any authority from Washington, he placed an order. He did it without winking an eye, as easily as though ordering a postage stamp.
As commander of the AEF, Pershing proved it. Until he took charge, each army bureau and department had its own supply officer with its own budget, a system that caused immense confusion and duplication of effort and expense.
For example, the various bureaus had ordered a total of 30 million pairs of shoes when 9 million were needed! A canny businessman, Dawes had absolute authority to buy anything and everything the army needed from the French and British at the best possible price. The decisions Pershing and his staff made to prepare the AEF for battle were awesome. Along with French planes for their newly created independent air force, they bought French. Pershing also decided to make an AEF division, an entity that did not exist in the prewar American army, of 28, men, twice the size of an Allied or German division.
He wanted an organization large enough to mount a sustained attack under the command of a single general. Pershing also strove to put his own stamp on the spirit of the AEF. To improve the appearance of the officer corps, he ordered them to wear the British Sam Browne belt and authorized the use of canes. The first item was hated by many officers, the second mocked by enlisted men, but they became part of the dress code nonetheless. He climbed into haylofts where soldiers were quartered and discussed onions with cooks, to make sure men were being billeted in reasonable health and comfort.
One man who never succumbed to the system was Charles Dawes. Pershing made him a brigadier general to give him some weight with his French counterparts, but Dawes remained a civilian. His shoes went unshined, and his uniform was usually a rumpled mess.
Once, when he walked into a Dawes conference, everyone rose and saluted. But Dawes neglected to take a large cigar out of his mouth. Although he could relax that way with close friends, and make visual gestures for photographers or admiring crowds, the one thing Pershing could not do was inspire soldiers or civilians with a ringing phrase. He was astute enough psychologically to trace this limitation to a boyhood episode, in which he forgot a speech during an elocution performance. He let one of his staff officers who spoke good French say it instead.
Another flaw, which drove Harbord and the rest of his staff to near distraction, was a complete lack of a sense of time. Pershing constantly arrived late to dinners or receptions, leaving kings, queens, prime ministers, and Allied generals impatiently tapping their VIP feet. The explanation was his appetite for detail.
Devouring a report on weapons procurement or shipping schedules, Pershing would lose touch with the external world. In the fall the Germans and Austrians wrecked the Italian army at Caporetto. The Bolsheviks, having seized power in Moscow, took Russia out of the war, freeing an estimated 77 German divisions for service on the Western Front.
As a handful of American divisions trickled into Saint-Nazaire on their way to training areas in Lorraine, the Allies put more and more pressure on Pershing to give them control of his army.
The French and British generals summoned political reinforcements. The only reinforcement Pershing got from Wilson was Bliss, an Anglophile who immediately sided with the British on amalgamation. Bliss said they should cable their opposing views to Washington and let the president decide. Pershing responded with some very straight talk. We would both be relieved from further duty in France and that is exactly what we should deserve. He was particularly tough on the 1st Division, which arrived in time to march through Paris on July 4—without the precision he expected.
In October, inspecting the division, Pershing blasted Siebert in front of his officers. A young staff captain, George C. Marshall, stepped forward and launched a passionate defense of the general and the division, which was hampered by shortages of everything from motor transport to ammunition. The rest of the staff watched, wide-eyed, certain that Marshall and his military career were about to be obliterated. Instead, Pershing studied him for a long thoughtful moment and more or less apologized for his bad temper.
Within a month Bullard had replaced Siebert as commander of the 1st Division.