Reference Series Documents Pershing's Wartime Writing

Reference Series Documents Pershing's Wartime Writing

Thursday, February 23, 2023

John J. Pershing is best known as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. Congress recognized his achievements in that war by creating the unique rank of “General of the Armies,” which is the highest military rank in the U.S. Army—senior even to the 5-star rank “General of the Army” (note the singular) that was conferred to such WWII luminaries as George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Only fellow “General of the Armies” George Washington outranks Pershing.

Pershing’s towering achievements in the First World War clearly merits close examination. And that’s exactly what John T. Greenwood provides in John J. Pershing and the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, 1917-1919: Volume 2, October 1-December 31, 1917.

This new addition to the AUSA Book Program is part of a reference series of Pershing’s official wartime correspondence edited by Greenwood, a former military historian with the U.S. Army and editor of several books, including Pershing’s pre-war memoir.

This second volume of the series covers Pershing’s efforts to train and equip the AEF’s first combat divisions while keeping them independent of French and British control. Meanwhile, Allied losses in the East and Russia’s withdrawal from the coalition following their revolution are putting additional pressure on the Western front.

The AUSA Book Program sat down with Greenwood to discuss the new work:

AUSA: This project on General Pershing’s wartime correspondence followed your work editing and annotating his memoir My Life Before the World War, 1860-1917. What originally drew you to Pershing as a topic for study?

Greenwood: He was one of the American military observers of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 that I wrote about in my doctoral dissertation many years ago. In my reading since then, I came across a reference to his unpublished autobiography which led me to the project on his memoir.

AUSA: What elements of Pershing’s personality are exhibited in his correspondence?

Greenwood: I dealt almost exclusively with his official correspondence and not his personal and private correspondence. However, his official correspondence with his closest associates often gets quite personal. Pershing was an excellent writer who was perfectly capable of expressing the full range of his thoughts, emotions, policies, and plans in significant detail and forcefulness. He was fully in command of even the most minute aspects of the AEF’s vast organization.

AUSA: What is the most important development covered in this volume?

Greenwood: That’s hard to single out because there was so much going on. Two things are prominent – one, Pershing’s continued drive to develop the AEF into a first-class fighting organization; and, two, a growing dispute with the French and British over their desires to amalgamate American troops into their depleted ranks.

AUSA: How has your view of Pershing changed over the course of this project?

Greenwood: I knew relatively little about Pershing and his role in France at the beginning. My views have matured and changed over these years as I became more familiar with him, his personality and style, and the enormous challenges he had to face and surmount.

AUSA: What are the plans for completion of the series?

Greenwood: I have Volume 3 with the Press now for review and slated for publication later this year. I am now doing a final review and edit of Volume 4, which I’ll submit later this year for publication in 2024. After that I have four more volumes covering the rest of 1918 and 1919 until Pershing and the AEF depart France in September.

To order a copy of John J. Pershing and the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, 1917-1919 please visit