Tag Archives: John J. Pershing

Great War Reads

One hundred years ago today, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Four days later, Congress voted in favor of a war declaration and the U.S. formally entered the First World War. In honor of the centennial, we’re featuring some of our favorite releases about WWI, both before the U.S. entrance and after, on the home front and on the western front.


My Life before the World War, 1860–1917: A Memoirpershing4.indd

Few American military figures are more revered than General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing (1860–1948), who is most famous for leading the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. The only soldier besides George Washington to be promoted to the highest rank in the U.S. Army (General of the Armies), Pershing was a mentor to the generation of generals who led America’s forces during the Second World War.

Though Pershing published a two-volume memoir, My Experiences in the World War, and has been the subject of numerous biographies, few know that he spent many years drafting a memoir of his experiences prior to the First World War. In My Life Before the World War, 1860–1917, John T. Greenwood rescues this vital resource from obscurity, making Pershing’s valuable insights into key events in history widely available for the first time.

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york.final.inddAlvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

Alvin C. York (1887–1964)—devout Christian, conscientious objector, and reluctant hero of World War I—is one of America’s most famous and celebrated soldiers. Known to generations through Gary Cooper’s Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 1941 film Sergeant York, York is credited with the capture of 132 German soldiers on October 8, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne region of France—a deed for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

At war’s end, the media glorified York’s bravery but some members of the German military and a soldier from his own unit cast aspersions on his wartime heroics. Historians continue to debate whether York has received more recognition than he deserves. A fierce disagreement about the location of the battle in the Argonne forest has further complicated the soldier’s legacy.

In Alvin York, Douglas V. Mastriano sorts fact from myth in the first full-length biography of York in decades. He meticulously examines York’s youth in the hills of east Tennessee, his service in the Great War, and his return to a quiet civilian life dedicated to charity. By reviewing artifacts recovered from the battlefield using military terrain analysis, forensic study, and research in both German and American archives, Mastriano reconstructs the events of October 8 and corroborates the recorded accounts. On the eve of the WWI centennial, Alvin York promises to be a major contribution to twentieth-century military history.

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The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World Warchristmas_truce_final.indd

In ate December 1914, German and British soldiers on the western front initiated a series of impromptu, unofficial ceasefires. Enlisted men across No Man’s Land abandoned their trenches and crossed enemy lines to sing carols, share food and cigarettes, and even play a little soccer. Collectively known as the Christmas Truce, these fleeting moments of peace occupy a mythical place in remembrances of World War I. Yet new accounts suggest that the heartwarming tale ingrained in the popular imagination bears little resemblance to the truth.

In this detailed study, Terri Blom Crocker provides the first comprehensive analysis of both scholarly and popular portrayals of the Christmas Truce from 1914 to present. From books by influential historians to the Oscar-nominated French film Joyeux Noel (2006), this new examination shows how a variety of works have both explored and enshrined this outbreak of peace amid overwhelming violence. The vast majority of these accounts depict the soldiers as acting in defiance of their superiors. Crocker, however, analyzes official accounts as well as private letters that reveal widespread support among officers for the détentes. Furthermore, she finds that truce participants describe the temporary ceasefires not as rebellions by disaffected troops but as acts of humanity and survival by professional soldiers deeply committed to their respective causes.

The Christmas Truce studies these ceasefires within the wider war, demonstrating how generations of scholars have promoted interpretations that ignored the nuanced perspectives of the many soldiers who fought. Crocker’s groundbreaking, meticulously researched work challenges conventional analyses and sheds new light on the history and popular mythology of the War to End All Wars.

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9780813168012Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front

From five thousand children marching in a parade, singing, “Johnnie get your hoe, Mary dig your row,” to communities banding together to observe Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays, Kentuckians were loyal supporters of their country during the First World War. Kentucky had one of the lowest rates of draft dodging in the nation, and the state increased its coal production by 50 percent during the war years. Overwhelmingly, the people of the Commonwealth set aside partisan interests and worked together to help the nation achieve victory in Europe.

David J. Bettez provides the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Great War on Bluegrass society, politics, economy, and culture, contextualizing the state’s involvement within the national experience. His exhaustively researched study examines the Kentucky Council of Defense—which sponsored local war-effort activities—military mobilization and preparation, opposition and dissent, and the role of religion and higher education in shaping the state’s response to the war. It also describes the efforts of Kentuckians who served abroad in military and civilian capacities, and postwar memorialization of their contributions.

Kentucky and the Great War
 explores the impact of the conflict on women’s suffrage, child labor, and African American life. In particular, Bettez investigates how black citizens were urged to support a war to make the world “safe for democracy” even as their civil rights and freedoms were violated in the Jim Crow South. This engaging and timely social history offers new perspectives on an overlooked aspect of World War I.

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Lossberg’s War: The World War I Memoirs of a German Chief of Staffuntitled

General Fritz von Lossberg (1868–1942) directed virtually all the major German defensive battles on the Western Front during the First World War. Hailed as “the Lion of the Defensive,” he was an extremely influential military tactician and, unlike many other operations officers of his era, was quick to grasp the changes wrought by technology.

Now available for the first time in English, Lossberg’s memoir explains how he developed, tested, and implemented his central principles—flexibility, decentralized control, and counterattack—which were based on a need to adapt to shifting conditions on the battlefield. Lossberg first put his theory of elastic defense combined with defense-in-depth into practice during the Battle of Arras (April–May 1917), where it succeeded. At the Battle of Passchendaele (June–November 1917), his achievements on the field proved the feasibility of his strategy of employing a thinly manned front line that minimized the number of soldiers exposed to artillery fire. Lossberg’s tactical modernizations have become essential components of army doctrine, and Lossberg’s War: The World War I Memoirs of A German Chief of Staff will take readers inside the mind of one of the most significant military innovators of the twentieth century.

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More books about military history can be found in our American Warriors  and Battles and Campaigns series

Great Military History Reads to Commemorate the WWI Centennial

The War to End All WarsTomorrow, World War I historians, educators, curators, cultural programmers, authors, re-enactors, students, and other enthusiasts will gather in Washington, DC to discuss the upcoming centennial commemoration, share information, and develop partnerships.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, and U.S. officials are gearing up to commemorate the centennial over the next few years.

To honor and learn more about the history of the war, take advantage of some of UPK’s great military history titles.

Nothing Less Than War John J. Pershing The Embattled Past Kentucky Marine Alvin York

Memorial Day: General of the Armies John J. Pershing Salutes His Fellow Soldiers

My Life before the World War, 1860–1917: A Memoir  by General of the Armies John J. Pershing Edited and with an Introduction by John T. Greenwood

In celebration of Memorial Day, below is an excerpt from the memoir of the revered General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) who was the only soldier besides George Washington to be promoted t the highest rank in the U.S. Army—General of the Armies. This excerpt includes the farewell message he wrote to the Army when he retired on his 64th birthday.

Having [more than three] years to go before reaching the age of sixty-four, when retirement from active service is compulsory, I was then appointed Chief of Staff of the army [on 13 May 1921]. There was some question whether the position was commensurate with the rank of General, which had been conferred on me by Congress, but I was keen to have it. We had never had and had not then, a sound, up-to-date organization for national defense, and it seemed to me that I could in no better way repay my country for the trust it had placed in me and the signal honors it had conferred upon me than to devote the last years of my active service to the establishment of such a system.
My sixty-fourth birthday, September 13, 1924, was a sad day for me. I was loath to sever the ties of nearly forty years’ service under the flag. My feelings were expressed in the following farewell message to the Army:
My Comrades:
No words seem adequate to express to you the conflicting emotions that I feel upon reaching the date which officially marks the termination of my active service. Our experiences together have been varied. We have withstood the same hardships and shared the same pleasures. We have faced discouragements and rejoiced over victories.
Today, the recollections that swiftly pass in review fill my heart with a deep sense of gratitude for the loyal service and warm appreciation of the sincere devotion to country of the patriotic officers and men with whom it has been my good fortune to be associated during the fleeting years of my army life. It is my proud privilege, in parting, to say of the men of all ranks who have borne arms under the flag that none have more earnestly wished peace, yet in defense of right none have ever been imbued with loftier purpose nor more completely consecrated to the maintenance of our ideals.
My esteem for them and my admiration for their achievements continue to increase with the passing of time. The inspiration of their exalted conception of citizenship and their fulfillment of its obligations should ever assure the preservation of our institutions. The glorious example of their fidelity and courage will be remembered by those who come after us.
It is with an abiding confidence in our national forces, and with the assurance of my lasting interest in their welfare, that I bid you all an affectionate farewell.

—General of the Armies John J. Pershing from his memoir, My Life Before the World War, 1860–1917