John Joseph Pershing was born on 13 September 1860 near the frontier town of Laclede, Missouri. His father, John Fletcher Pershing, left the Pennsylvania farmland to seek a new life with the booming railroad industry. His father’s innate leadership skills soon saw him installed as a foreman on his company’s track laying crew in Tennessee. It was here that he met Ann Elizabeth Thompson and, after a whirlwind courtship, they were married. The couple followed the employment opportunities of the railroad to Missouri, where Ann prepared for the birth of her first child. As the work camp they live in lacked adequate resources for childbirth, Mrs. Pershing was moved to the town of Laclede, Missouri.
John J. Pershing spent his early years at work with his father. His family settled in Laclede where his father ran a farm, a general store, and speculated in real estate with mixed successes over the years. At the age of four, Pershing was given his first taste of warfare during the American Civil War. He was witness to skirmishes between his family and Confederate raiders, and with a garrison of Union soldiers. His childhood is filled with typical stories of growth and mischief. However, clearly present from an early age was a character of discipline, courage, and determination modeled after his childhood hero, George Washington.
It was in 1875 that John Pershing began to rise as his own man. Pershing found his family in dire financial trouble after a drought ruined his father’s over-ambitious land investments. Because of this, his father left to seek employment, and young John sought work in Laclede’s school for black children. Though Pershing was very young, he obtained the job due to his reputation for scholarly qualities, and the undesirability of the position itself. Despite the heckling of his peers, Pershing undertook the job with skill and pride, resolutely defending the honor of his position.
Pershing worked as a teacher in Laclede and later another nearby town until in 1882 a competitive examination was held for entrance into the United States Military Academy. Though Pershing had ambitions to become a lawyer, he saw West Point as a remarkable opportunity to receive a first rate education. Pershing won the competition and reported to West Point in September of 1882.