Pershing (seated second from left) and his staff, June 1917

The above quotation may sound like hyperbole–because it was–but that was the mood on board the RMS Baltic when she was pulling into Liverpool one hundred years ago tonight with Major General John Pershing and his entourage of nearly two hundred on board. As the pilgrims had once sailed from the Old World to the New, so their descendants were doing nearly three centuries later. At least that is the way one diarist captured it for the New York Times as the Baltic was met by the American destroyers coming into port. It had been almost two weeks since Pershing had left Governors Island and sailed from Sandy Hook. The trip had been a quiet one, largely because Pershing and his staff were so busy planning, but the mood was now ebullient when land was seen. Everyone knew this was Next Phase in the war.

The Great War was to be an extraordinary challenge for the American military, which had been hampered by all kinds of logistical problems in the relatively small campaigns in Cuba and Mexico over the previous two decades. Men like Pershing; J. Franklin Bell, still back in New York Harbor commanding the Department of the East; Chief of Staff Peyton C. March in Washington; and the Regular Army officers at the new bases materializing across the United States whose job it now was to train the raw recruits, had learned many lessons from these experiences. Leaving the United States was itself a lesson learned. Pershing’s voyage was the worst kept secret in New York; everyone knew something was afoot when they saw the docks operating with greater urgency than usual. It didn’t help either when the cannoneers on Governors Island set off a salute as the Baltic set forth. So much for confidentiality.

Pershing’s first night in Europe was fairly anti-climactic. The Baltic pulled into the River Mersey at 11:00 pm and docked for the night. The real action would begin the following morning. Everyone was anxious and excited to see what they next day would bring.

(image/Library of Congress)