Head of the Military Department

J. J. Pershing, First Lieutenant, 10th Cavalry.

When Pershing arrived at the University of Nebraska, the Military Department was in a relatively sorry state, suffering from lack of morale and motivation on the parts of the cadets.  His first, and perhaps one of the most significant, change he made was the way promotions were handled.  Up to his arrival, promotions had depended upon the number of years a cadet drilled and upon favoritism.  On October 5th, 1892, Pershing revoked all previous appointments and made new appointments based on a new promotion system, one based on terms served, academics, and military ability and potentional. (History of the Military Dept. p15)

Pershing improved the morale among the cadets in many other ways as well, improving discipline  and pride in the department through things like more accountabiity through inspections, rifle battalions (more information under Pershing Rifle Sections), and the first Military Ball. In fact, when Pershing came to the university there were only 90 cadets, soon after Pershing began as head of the Military Department the number of cadets jumped to 350. Chancellor Canfield wrote that no other university department was making such rapid growth, "or has made a deeper impression on the people of the city and state." Pershing created a large impact on the cadets, some were noted to clean their equipment and practice their manual of arms so much that the faculty complained the cadets studies were lacking and that military drill be reduced or abandoned. Fortunately Chancellor Canfield liked Pershing and the military program, even suggesting that some of the professors take military training. (Smith)

One of the problems faced by Pershing once becoming head of the Military Department was that "the cadets had an imprecise conception of the value of attendance." Many of the cadets had to work their way through the university selling newspapers, waiting tables in cafes around town, serving as janitors, or any odd job available. The cadets stated that they were tired and felt military training was a burden and simply skipped training. Pershing understood the cadets reasoning, but skipping simply was not an option. Pershing considedered training a required subject, and said "whenever at all possible I insisted on the student's attendance." Some cadets resisted, but the cadets no longer skipped. Despite having a small number of cadets that were upset with the increase in work and punctuality, Pershing's popularity grew immensely. He was greatly admired by the cadets, and had a lasting impact on the department that the university benefitted from for years to come. (Smith)