General Pershing's Order on the Armistice Signing

Author: 
Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

On this Veteran’s Day 2018, we wanted to share the contents of the original General Order issued by U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing exactly 100 years ago today, on November 12, 1918. With the Armistice signed, Pershing wanted to turn his attention to encouraging the American forces remaining in Europe to maintain their professionalism and discipline, because there was more work to do beyond just combat in the time of peace. Pershing lays out his vision of what qualities an American soldier should have, and how they should be representatives of their country wherever they go. It is also in this order that Pershing defines the development of the new concept of “Americanism” as defined through the experiences of WWI. In Pershing's world, sacrifice of self defined the American soldier; ironically, it was this ideal of sacrifice and endurance that came to find itself expressing this “Americanism” in another generation during World War II—refered to as the “Greatest Generation.”

This order was kept by Lt. Col. Joseph Hyde Pratt of North Carolina, who commanded the 1st Battalion of the 105th Engineer Regiment, 30th Division, U.S. Army, in France during WWI. It was originally saved within his personal wartime diary, along with his reminiscence of the Armistice day.

 

For all of those veterans who have served the United States in war and peace, and to those veterans' families who sacrifice and struggle so their loved ones can fulfill a duty, we at the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would like to express our appreciation for your sacrifices and endurance. We owe you all more than words could ever express:

 

G.H.Q., American Expeditionary Forces, France, Nov. 12, 1918, General Orders No. 203:

 

“The enemy has capitulated. It is fitting that I address myself in thanks directly to the officers and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces who by their heroic efforts have made possible this glorious result. Our armies, hurriedly raised and hastily trained, met a veteran enemy, and by courage, discipline and skill always defeated him. Without a complaint you have endured incessant toil, privation and danger. You have seen many of your comrades make the supreme sacrifice that freedom may live. I thank you for the patience and courage with which you have endured. I congratulate you upon the splendid fruits of victory which your heroism and the blood of our gallant dead are now presenting to our nation. Your deeds will live forever on the most glorious pages of America’s history.

Those things you have done. There remains now a harder task which will test your soldierly qualities to the utmost. Succeed in this, and little note will be taken and few praises will be sung; fail, and the light of your glorious achievements of the past will sadly be dimmed. But you will not fail. Every natural tendency may urge towards relaxation in discipline, in conduct, in appearance, in everything that marks the soldier. Yet you will remember that each officer and each soldier is the representative in Europe of his people and that his brilliant deeds of yesterday permit no action of today to pass unnoticed by friend or foe. You will meet this test as gallantly as you have met the tests of the battlefield. Sustained by your high ideals and inspired by the heroic part you have played, you will carry back to our people the proud consciousness of a new Americanism born of sacrifice. Whether you stand on hostile territory or on the friendly soil of France, you will so bear yourself in discipline, appearance and respect for all civil rights that you will confirm for all time the pride and love which every American feels for your uniform and for you.

 

—John J. Pershing, General, Commander in Chief.

Resources

 

Diary #8, Joseph Hyde Pratt Papers, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.