General Patton's Grandfather Was Also a War Hero—In the Confederacy

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The famous general of World War II, George S. Patton III, often spoke proudly of his ancestors' military actions. From a young age, Patton was rewarded with the exploits of the Pattons and their relatives from the War of Independence to the Civil War. These stories of courage and great deeds, of heroes and mighty battles greatly influenced the man who would hurl his tanks through France.
Of all the brave men who were spoken of, none stood in the eyes of young Patton taller than his dead grandfather, Colonel of the Confederates George S. Patton I. This was the man whom the younger Patton romantically regarded as a noble fighter who had shown great bravery and honor in battle and had come to an end at the head of his troops. So who was that unannounced soldier of the Civil War that Patton only knew through stories, but who inspired him to become one of the great generals of World War II?
George Smith Patton was born on September 26, 1833 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to Peggy and John Patton. The Pattons had 12 children, but only nine grew up - eight sons and a daughter. Peggy Patton was a member of the Virginia Plantation Society, and John, a rights and slavery lawyer, was a lawyer, politician, and slave owner. The Pattons were loyal Virginians and proud of their southern aristocratic culture. When John Patton died in 1858, his spirited, strong-willed wife became the family's matriarch and continued to raise her children as they were used to.
The late blooming Patton was excellent when it matured
John Patton realized early on that maintaining the southern lifestyle he and his wife loved so much would ultimately lead to secession and hostility. He therefore prepared his sons for the future conflict by sending them to military colleges. Like three of his brothers, George Patton attended the Virginia Military Institute. At the age of 16, Patton joined the VMI, where he was academically in the middle of his class for the first two years, but was a leader in errors. Patton matured in his senior year and finished second in a class of 24 in 1852. He was distinguished by Latin, English, French, chemistry and artillery.
At VMI, Patton impressed his classmates with his gentle but responsible personality and ingenious wit. After graduation, the tall, slender, handsome young man with long brown hair was ready to go out into the world. The summer after graduation, Patton met 17-year-old Susan Thornton Glassell from Alabama, who was visiting friends in Virginia. A relationship blossomed and they were engaged in the fall. Over the next two years, Patton taught in Richmond while studying law. Although he had difficulty teaching and eventually quit, he continued to study law and was admitted to the Bar in Richmond in 1855. He married Susan in November of that year. On their wedding night, the couple drove to Charleston, Kanawha County, Virginia (now West Virginia), where Patton had been offered a partnership in a small law firm.
In Charleston, a town of around 2,000 residents in the Kanawha River Valley, Patton founded a successful law firm and was involved in local affairs. The deeply religious Pattons were very popular with the citizens of Charleston, and shortly after their arrival, Patton was fondly nicknamed "Frenchy" for the goatee he wore. On September 30, 1856, the Pattons had their first of four children, a son whom they christened George William Patton. Eleven years later, George William had his middle name changed to that of his father Smith. George Smith Patton Jr. later became the father of General George S. Patton from World War II. Also in 1856, George organized and became the captain of a militia called Kanawha Minutemen, to whom he devoted much of his time.
War on the doorstep
Although Kanawha County had the fewest slaves in any Virginia county - and most of them were domestic workers - George followed his father's beliefs and soon became a passionate supporter of secession. After John Brown's invasion of Harper's Ferry in the fall of 1859, Patton's militia changed its name to Kanawha Riflemen and intensified drilling. Patton, who felt the war was coming, was increasingly devoting himself to his militia at the expense of his legal practice. With the shooting at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, what Patton believed and prepared for came at last - the country was at war. When Virginia left the Union, the Kanawha rifles became Company H of the 22nd Virginia Infantry Regiment.
In addition to George, six other Patton boys would go out to fight for the Confederacy. John Mercer (1826-1898) became commander of the 21st Virginia, but had to resign in August 1862 due to poor health. Isaac William (1826-1890), who had moved to New Orleans before the war, led a Louisiana regiment and was captured in Vicksburg. George's closest brother, William Tazewell (1835-1863), would run the 7th Virginia and be killed in Pickett's indictment at Gettysburg. Hugh Mercer (1841-1905) became an officer in his brother's 7th Virginia, while adolescent brother James French (1843-1882) became an officer with George in 22nd Virginia. The last Patton to serve was William Macfarland (1845-1905), who would participate in the Battle of New Market as a cadet with VMI. The only brother who did not serve was the eldest, Robert (1824-1876), a former naval officer suffering from alcoholism.
Patton tasted the fight for the first time on July 17, 1861, just 20 miles down the Kanawha River from Charleston in a place called Scary Creek. Patton recently hired a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army and commanded about nine hundred men who were part of a brigade under Brig. General Henry A. Wise, trying to stop a union, pushed up the Kanawha Valley. The Federals were part of Maj. Gen. George McClellan's attack from Ohio to West Virginia. Late in battle, when Patton tried to gather retreating troops in the middle of the Confederate line, he was hit by a mini bullet in his right shoulder that shattered the bone in his upper arm and knocked him off his horse.
Patton rejects amputation at gunpoint
He was carried back where he was told that his arm had to be amputated. Patton relentlessly refused and pulled out his pistol to emphasize his point of view. He kept his arm but could never take full advantage of it again. Although the Confederates won the battle, they later had to withdraw from the Kanawha Valley. Patton could not be moved because of his wound and was left behind and captured. A few weeks later, he was released on parole and went home to recover.
After spending eight months at home and waiting impatiently for war to return, Patton finally got the message that he had been replaced. Although he only partially used his right arm and could not lift it over his head, he returned to Virginia as the 22nd commander. On May 10, 1862, Patton saw another action when he led the 22nd Virginia in an attack on a Union regiment at Giles Court House, Virginia while Brig. General Henry Heth's campaign against Union forces trying to cut the railroad lines in southwest Virginia. The Confederates were victorious, but Patton was wounded again and shot in the stomach.
Patton was placed against a nearby tree and began to write a farewell note to his wife, fearing that he would die. General Wharton, his brigade commander, rode up to him and asked how he was doing. George replied that he believed the wound was fatal. According to Patton's son George William, “Gen. Wharton dismounted and asked if he could examine the wound. He stuck his unwashed finger inside and shouted, "What's this?" When his finger hit something hard. Then he fished around and took out a ten dollar piece of gold. The bullet hit this and had driven it into his flesh and looked at it. “The bullet had hit a $ 10 gold piece that his wife had put in a money belt that she had made and given to him just before he left to rejoin his regiment. (In another version of this incident, General Heth, not Wharton, finds the gold coin.)
Saved by a $ 10 gold coin
Thanks to his wife's thoughtfulness, his life had been saved; Although the wound was not severe, he developed blood poisoning and had to return to his family, who now live in Richmond, to recover. While in Richmond, he learned that he hadn't been replaced properly in March. For reasons of honor and in order not to be executed, Patton had to stay out of the war until it could be properly exchanged.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but which only lasted a few months, Patton was finally replaced. He returned to Lewisburg, Virginia, for the 22nd Virginia. His regiment was now part of the First Brigade under Brig. General John Echols in the Army of Southwest Virginia. Since Echols suffered from heart disease and was often absent, Patton regularly took command of the brigade. In the fall, Patton's regiment participated in the campaign to drive federal forces out of the Kanawha Valley and recapture Charleston, which the Confederates had lost the previous year. The trip was successful, but less than a month later, the Confederates were driven back to Lewisburg, where they set up camp for the winter.
In the spring of 1863, the army in southwest Virginia commenced operations with a raid on the Union-controlled mountainous region in northwest Virginia (now West Virginia). The purpose of the raid was to hinder the New State Movement in the region (the creation of a new state in West Virginia that remains loyal to the Union, which of course eventually succeeded); the destruction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and other Union goods; and look for food, clothing, and other much-needed supplies. Patton and his regiment were part of Brig. General John Imboden's force, a pillar of the double-track raid. On April 20, Imboden's attackers left Shenandoah Mountain camp and slowly roamed the region to collect truckloads of supplies, cattle and horses before returning to the Shenandoah Valley. Patton, proud of the performance of his regiment, noticed that 40 of his men were walking barefoot the entire 400 miles.
A full account of Patton's talent in battle
In August, Maj. Gen. William Averell, a friend of George before the war, led 3,000 men against Lewisburg. On the 26th, Averell's cavalry force in Dry Creek collided with the First Brigade under Patton. After two days of tough fighting, Averell was struck back. The Dry Creek victory demonstrated Patton's ability to command troops to the fullest in combat.
Averell, however, was supposed to take revenge on Patton in November when he confronted him in a place called Droop Mountain, where Averell's 5,000-man cavalry defeated Patton's 1,700 men. Patton had to withdraw and allowed Averell to occupy Lewisburg for a few days before the threat of a counterattack forced the Union cavalrymen to leave. At the time of the battle, Patton's family lived in Lewisburg. His son William vividly remembered how he saw the defeated troops drawn through Lewisburg and later wrote: “Late at night my father came in with the last rearguard and stopped to say goodbye and my mother a letter for General To give Averell asking him to see that we were not disturbed. "The next morning Susan brought the letter to Averell, who complied with his old friend's request and posted a guard at Patton's house.
Patton's most beautiful hour was the Battle of the New Market the following year. Patton's regiment was part of a small army that had hastily gathered under Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge to counter a Union surge under Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley towards Staunton. (Since the Shenandoah River flows from south to north, the union that pushed up the valley was actually moving north-south.) The Confederates, which were outnumbered, had to use 247 VMI cadets as reinforcements. One of the cadets who immortalized the VMI Corps of Cadets that day was Patton's youngest brother, William Mercer Patton.
The two sides met on May 15, 1864 at the Valley Turnpike on the New Market. In the ensuing battle, the Confederates heroically faced superior Union forces and won the day. In the final phase of the battle, Patton, who practically commanded the First Brigade for the battered Echols, defended the right against the Union cavalry, which was trying to outstrip the Confederate line. When the cavalry broke to the left of his line, Patton quickly rolled his 22nd Virginia and 23rd Virginia from Lieutenant Colonel Clarence Derrick to either side of the gap and caught the Union cavalrymen in a deadly crossfire. With the help of several artillery pieces, the Confederates decimated the Union's riders and forced many to surrender and the rest to panic.
Promoted to Brigadier General
Historian William C. Davis said: “The main architects of Triumph [on the New Market] were Patton's 22nd Virginia, to a lesser extent Derrick's 23rd Virginia, and Breckinridge with his great weapons. Patton's and Derrick's men, spread thinly, successfully resisted the most terrible attacks on an infantryman, a mounted charge. In addition, they messed it up and made it a router. “New Market has no doubt proven that Patton is an outstanding and resourceful market leader. A week later, when his poor health forced Echols to permanently give up his command, Patton was given command of the brigade - a promotion he deservedly deserved. Patton was also recommended for promotion to the brigade general.
Shortly after the battle at the New Market, Breckinridge's army was brought east to help Robert E. Lee stop Major General Ulysses S. Grant's advance on Richmond. Patton's brigade joined Lee's forces on June 2 at Cold Harbor, just eight miles from the Confederate capital. Patton and his men hurriedly built defensive work through the night and were barely ready when Grant launched a full-scale attack against the entrenched Confederates at 4:30 a.m. Grant was struck back and lost nearly 7,000 men in half an hour. A Confederate general said, "It wasn't a war, it was murder."
"It wasn't a war, it was murder."
Immediately after the battle, Patton's brigade returned to the Shenandoah Valley to join Lieutenant Jubal Early's army. The Union's forces were advancing south again, and Early had been tasked to counter this new threat. After knocking the Federals out of the valley, Early drove through Maryland to the outskirts of Washington. Patton's brigade was one of the first Confederate units to reach the city on July 11th. When Early the next morning found that the city's defenses were heavily reinforced, he stopped an attack on the city and returned to the Shenandoah Valley that night.
In response to Early's invasion of Maryland and the threat to Washington, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan was ordered to deal with Early and devastate the Shenandoah Valley. The two sides met in Winchester, Virginia on September 19 in the third Battle of Winchester. The Confederates were outnumbered, unable to withstand the Union's blitz and defeated. Early one third of his army lost and Patton's brigade lost half of their men. But that wasn't all Patton's brigade had lost that day. it also lost its commander.
A second rejection of the amputation and the loss of a great general
At around 2:00 p.m. when the Confederates were pushed back, Patton stood to the left of the line against a determined attack by Sheridan's cavalry. At that time he was wounded. Robert H. Patton described the event in his book about the Patton family as follows: “He was standing in his stirrups on a Winchester street when an artillery grenade exploded nearby and sent an iron fragment into his right hip. He had tried to gather his men who were retreating before they stormed the Yankee cavalry ... "He was taken to a nearby house and later captured. An amputation of his right leg was recommended, but how he refused to do so after Scary Creek. Within a few days a burn started and he developed a fever. On September 25, 1864, he died of his wound was on the way to him. According to Terry Lowery, a historian from 22nd Virginia, there is little evidence to support this and no solid evidence has been found, however, Patton has been recommended for promotion several times.)
Patton's wife Susan, who read about her husband's wound in the newspapers, hurried to Winchester. When she arrived, he had unfortunately died and been buried. Instead of taking her husband's body to one of the family properties in Richmond or Fredericksburg, she had it buried in Winchester. About 10 years later, Patton's younger brother William Tazewell, who was killed in Gettysburg, was brought to Winchester and he and George were buried in a simple grave.
The year after the war ended, Susan and her four children joined their brother in California. In 1870, Susan married George's close friend and first cousin George Hugh Smith, who, like George, had served the Confederacy and commanded two regiments in Virginia. Smith adopted the Patton children and lovingly raised them as his own. Susan died in 1883 after suffering from cancer for several years. Patton's eldest son, George S. Patton II, visited VMI like his father, but had no military career. However, he kept the memory of his father's military service alive through the stories he told his son, General George S. Patton III.
This article by James M. Powles was first published on September 23, 2015 on the Warfare History Network.
Left: Oil portrait of Confederate Colonel George S. Patton, class of 1852, commander of the 22nd Virginia Infantry Regiment during the Civil War; Killed in Winchester in 1864. The original portrait belongs to the Virginia Military Institute and is in the Preston Library. Artist: William D. Washington.
Right: General George Patton wears his 4-star service cap in 1945. U.S. Army photo.

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