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Our great military leaders in Roswell; John J. “Black Jack” Pershing and Roswell’s National Guard Battery A as battled bravely during World War I

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Pictured is Battery A 1919, 1st Section, in Germany. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

Southeastern New Mexico has a claim to so many “greats” and connections between those greats, it is amazing. Many of you may know that in the 1880s, General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing served two tours of duty right up the road at Fort Stanton.

There was increased activity in the 1880s during the Chiricahua (Victoria and Geronimo) campaigns. There were also more disturbances among the Mescalero’s. During this phase of the Indian Wars, Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing was stationed at Fort Stanton twice as a junior officer.
His quarters are still standing.
Pershing, acquired his nickname from serving with Black troopers (Buffalo Soldiers) at Fort Stanton and before the 10th Calvary.
Later, when Poncho Villa raided the border town of Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916, General Pershing was ordered by President Woodrow Wilson to lead American troops into Mexico.
Battery “A,” First New Mexico Field Artillery from Roswell arrived in Columbus. Battery “A” served here under Pershing and learned so much under his command. This was the first National Guard field artillery unit on the border.
After serving here, Battery A was ordered to Fort Bliss, Texas, from Columbus and arrived at its new station. The entire battery was attached to the Sixth U.S. Field Artillery.
The training Battery A received while attached to the Sixth U.S. Field Artillery would prove invaluable during the its service in World War I. It enabled Battery “A” to become one of the best known American Expeditionary Force units of WWI.
It has been said that Battery A “could drop from their horse and fire before the dust settled.”
As an expression of the appreciation the citizens of El Paso had for Battery “A,” the citizens inaugurated “New Mexico Day,” observed on March 19, 1917. The celebration was the culmination of their time on the border.
The battery was mustered out of federal service and left for Roswell, only to be called up, in December of 1917, for service in France under General Pershing, along with all the other U.S. Forces in World War I.
None were lost, but 12 were wounded.
New Mexico’s Battery A, 146 Field Artillery was cited by a letter from General Pershing for destroying the bridge at Chateau-Thierry, which served as the German’s main line of communication. Its destruction materially contributed to the failure of the last great German offensive of the war.
At the conclusion of hostilities, the four guns of the battery had fired in excess of 14,000 rounds each. That was more rounds fired in combat than all the other American heavy mobile field Artillery combined.
Ultimately, the men of the Battery earned six battle stars for their victory medals and their commander, Lt. Colonel Charles M. DeBremond, received the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously after succumbing in 1919 to the effects of poison gas inhaled during the battle of the Marne in July of 1918.
Pershing is the only American to be promoted in his own lifetime to “General of the Armies,” the highest possible rank in the United States Army; an act was passed in 1976 promoting George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority, ensuring that he would always be considered the senior ranking officer in the United States Army.
Allowed to select his own insignia, Pershing chose to use four gold stars to distinguish himself from those officers who held the rank of General. After the creation of the five star “General of the Army” rank during World War II, his rank of General of the Armies could unofficially be considered that of a six star general, but he died before the proposed insignia could be considered and acted on by Congress.
Our nation’s most revered military leaders of the 20th century were directly or secondarily influenced by General Pershing. Many of them were in his classes at West Point and several served directly under him elsewhere.
Brigadier General Fox Conner was Pershing’s Chief of Operations during World War I. Conner was very influential in the military career of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. General George S. Patton was a friend to both of these men and himself served under Pershing, as did President Harry S. Truman, General Douglas MacArthur and U. S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall.
These leaders fought adversaries on a global scale against foes and weaponry of such greatness the world has never encountered. Their leadership and achievements are a testament to the man General John J. Pershing was.
Many of the U.S.’s most famous commanders began their careers as part of Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. George S. Patton, who was a lieutenant when he served in Mexico, was one of this group. George Patton, born 11 November 1885 in San Gabriel, California, attended the Virginia Military Institute and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1909. Lieutenant Patton served as General Pershing’s personal aide.
When Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico in 1916, Patton, who had served on border patrol in Texas and New Patton continued to serve as Pershing’s personal aide in Europe during World War I, where he was promoted to captain and given command of the first U.S. Automobile Cavalry Unit in France.
For his service during the war, in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson, with Congress’s approval, promoted Pershing to General of the Armies.
Whether it was coincidence that this great leader and the Battery A guardsmen came together and fought together, and all proved their greatness, we shall never know.
One thing we do know, Roswell and Southeastern New Mexico, has had, and will continue to have, many stories to tell, even more than our little green men, through our history, and what, and who, this area has given to the world in general.
“We came American. We shall remain American and go into battle with Old Glory over our heads. I will not parcel out American boys.” –– General John J. Pershing.
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Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or email at jdunna@hotmail.com.