The Fighting Pattonsby Brian M. Sobel, Adams Morgan
In America's triumph over Nazi Germany, no name was more legendary than Patton, the general feared and admired even by his enemies. While Patton cut a path of victory in Europe, his son was growing up in his father's footsteps, rubbing shoulders with the sons and daughters of presidents, generals, and kings. Decades later, George S. Patton would get his chance to prove his valor. But this was a different kind of war, in a place called Vietnam....
Brimming with never-before-published information, plus interviews with such intriguing historical figures as Richard Nixon and General William Westmoreland, The Fighting Pattons captures a remarkable family through seasons of tragedy and victory. From their actions on the field to the abiding sense of duty that motivated them, here are two men who found a home in war, two men who served with brilliance, loyalty, and above all, an abiding commitment to the men who followed them into battle.
And this most conventional warrior's view (Major General George S. Patton) on that most unconventional war, Vietnam, makes for good reading. "We were in total violation of surprise, simplicity, command and objective," he says of U. S. strategy in Vietnam. "Somewhere someone made the statement that we would not go above the seventeenth parallel with land forces. We never should have told them that, we should have let them worry. Most importantly, we should have taken Vietnam on as a theater of war—just exactly like the Italian theater or the Mediterranean or South Pacific or Central Pacific theaters. We should have drawn a circle around Southeast Asia.
His father couldn't have said it better.
The Wall Street Journal Review
"An extraordinary history of one American family's love of war." —The Wall Street Journal
"Strong, stirring, and inspiring.... What a story it is!... A stunning account." —Army
"Highly recommended and engrossing reading as well as giving us a view of the Pattons that has never before been seen. A wonderful and moving portrait of the Patton family." —Military
"Sobel’s volume is a significant addition to our understanding of a man often overlooked and compared unfairly to his father." —Armchair General
"Sobel’s volume is a significant addition to our understanding of a man often overlooked and compared unfairly to his father." Armchair General
"Strong, stirring, and inspiring.... What a story it is!... A stunning account." Army
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Read an Excerpt
BORN OF DISTINCTION
The Patton sons were all either killed, wounded, or otherwise affected by the Civil War.
--Ruth Ellen Patton Totten
It is said that a Patton has fought in nearly every conflict in America's history; yet the first Patton, one Robert Patton, was not a military man but a tobacco exporter from South Carolina, whose name first turns up on a deed in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1771. It has been established with considerable certainty that the name was an alias: the young man who called himself Robert Patton, then a popular last name in Scotland, was actually a wanted criminal in the old country. Like so many immigrants of those times, he had set out for America to leave his past behind. From such humble beginnings the family over the next two hundred years would make an indelible mark on the American landscape.
The Patton name has inspired countless literary endeavors, including many books and articles, published especially over the last fifty years. The story of Patton has been chronicled on television and in major motion pictures, including Patton, starring the award-winning actor George C. Scott. The name has been brought into the collective consciousness of America and much of the world through the power of Hollywood, with its impact across borders and languages.
An epic major motion picture that wins numerous awards will be seen by hundreds of millions of people around the globe, but it is the story being told that captures the imagination. The Patton saga is just such a story. The leading character is bigger than life, certainly as enhanced by the motion picture screen, which conveys the power and majesty of a persona of inspiring quality, crushing theenemies of freedom and democracy.
While the story of one general and hero is a central part of Patton history, it is not the only one. Importantly and significantly, there is more. The full story involves a son who also became a general, who participated in two of our most controversial wars, Korea and Vietnam. The fact is, the complete Patton military story ends not with General George S. Patton, Jr., but with his son, a general who fought in wars where the enemy was elusive as were the solutions to the problems facing America in the post-World War II era. Telling the story of Major General George S. Patton requires, however, not only recognizing the career of his father, the
famous field commander of World War II, but going back to the beginning, to set the scene.
America during the Colonial period was a place where new ideas flourished, where strangers and newcomers banded together to form communities; the young country was flexing its new-found power and allegiance to itself instead of the old country. With just such a backdrop Robert Patton established himself in the Fredericksburg area, ingratiating himself with the local citizens while running a tobacco business. Interestingly, whereas many men of his day fought in the Revolutionary War, Patton did not volunteer, preferring to remain friendly with both the British and Americans alike. During the war, however, Patton killed a British officer in a tavern altercation and was forced to keep a low profile for the remainder of the conflict.
Robert Patton was, if nothing else, a resourceful soul, undaunted by circumstance, who in the late 1770s would marry the daughter of General Hugh
Mercer, a close friend of George Washington. The union produced six children; one in particular, John Mercer Patton, went on to a distinguished career, including service in the United States Congress and as the acting governor of Virginia. He and his wife, Peggy French Williams, had twelve children, nine of whom, eight boys and one girl, lived to adulthood.
Seven sons of John and Peggy Mercer Patton would eventually join the Confederacy. The Civil War not only pitted the South against the North in America's greatest tragedy but drew into its wide net members of nearly every family, particularly in the South. The Pattons were no exception, feeling honor-bound to fight, and doing so with a high degree of dedication and bravery. Whether viewed from a Northern or Southern perspective, it was an especially cruel conflict, setting brother against brother and producting horrific and deadly battlefield technology. The famed "minie ball," as an example, designed in 1849 by C. E. Minie, a French Army captain, accounted for 90 percent of the casualties; another 8 percent were caused by
increasingly powerful and accurate artillery.
The Civil War, in which the Pattons played a significant role, was especially hard on the family. Ruth Ellen once said, "The Patton sons were all either killed, wounded, or otherwise affected by the Civil War." In addition
to splitting families, the war split the military. By 1861, it is reported, 820 graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point were serving in the armies of both the North and South, though more than 75 percent remained
loyal to the Northern cause.
The Pattons, as Virginians and loyal to the South, fought on familiar ground. Virginia evolved as the leading theater of the Civil War; battles, engagements, and campaigns in Virginia exceeded those of any other state, including Tennessee. By war's end just under one-third of all military actions had occurred in Virginia, and extant reports from the field--including specific indications of their movements in battle by generals "Stonewall" Jackson and R. S. Ewell, among others--mention the Pattons in locations throughout the state.
One particular Patton, the fourth child of John and Peggy, was given the name George Smith; he was the first in a line of Pattons with the same first
name. Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in June 1833, he would eventually attend the Virginia Military Institute, where he graduated in 1852. After VMI, Patton set up a law practice and later formed a volunteer militia company, the Kanawha Rifles, in which he assumed the rank of captain. This company became
Company H of the 22nd Virginia Infantry when it was activated in late April 1861. When the entire regiment was sworn into the Confederate service, Patton became a lieutenant colonel and was ordered to report to Brigadier General Henry Wise, a past Virginia governor and now commander of the Army of the Kanawha.
Patton fought courageously. He was wounded in 1862 but returned to the war, to be killed in the third battle of Winchester, often called the battle of Opequon, in September 1864. "At the time Patton was killed in action, his commission as a general in the Confederate Army was in the mail," said Ruth Ellen. It was the second death of a son in the war for the Pattons, who had lost Colonel Waller Tazewell Patton nearly a year before. Today in the Confederate portion of a cemetery in Winchester, Virginia--a town that changed hands seventy-two times during the war--is a statue dedicated on June 6, 1879, "in memory of the 398 Virginia soldiers lying in the cemetery who fell in defense of Constitutional Liberty and sovereignty of their state
from 1861-1865 a.d."
Nearby is the simple grave of the Patton brothers, lying among friends and fellow soldiers. The tombstone reads, "In Christ alone perfectly content." Regarding Colonel W. Tazewell Patton, 7th Virginia Regiment, it speaks of a Patton "who fell mortally wounded in the charge of Pickett's division at Gettysburg on the 3rd of July, 1863 in the 29th year of his age"; under Colonel George S. Patton, 22nd Virginia Regiment, it recalls one "who gave his life in Command of his brigade in defense of Winchester on the 19th of September, 1864 in the 32nd year of his age."
Meet the Author
Adams Morgan, trained in the theater, has appeared in venues around the United States. He has narrated for National Public Radio and performed radio dramas and historical re-enactments. He lives in New York City.
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