General Patton: A Soldier's Life

General Patton: A Soldier's Life

by Stanley Hirshson

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General George S. Patton Jr, an inspirational leader and outstanding tactician, has intrigued and confounded his biographers. Utilising untapped archival materials in both the USA and UK, government documents, family papers, and oral histories, Hirshson creates the most balanced portrait of Patton ever written. It reveals Patton as a complex


General George S. Patton Jr, an inspirational leader and outstanding tactician, has intrigued and confounded his biographers. Utilising untapped archival materials in both the USA and UK, government documents, family papers, and oral histories, Hirshson creates the most balanced portrait of Patton ever written. It reveals Patton as a complex soldier capable of brilliant military manoeuvres but also of inspiring his troops with fiery speeches that resulted in horrendous acts, such as the massacres of Italian civilians. It explains Patton's belief in a soldier's Valhalla, connects the family's wealth to one of America's bitterest labour strikes, and disputes the usual interpretation of Patton's relief from command of the Third Army. In investigating this complex man, Hirshson has uncovered surprising material about a series of civilian massacres in Sicily, about the two slapping incidents, about attempts to exploit Patton's diary after his death, and about Patton's relations with top Allied generals. Patton emerges as a soldier of great imagination and courage, and his military campaigns make for edge-of-the-seat reading. All the drama of Patton's life comes alive in this meticulously documented volume.

Editorial Reviews
You saw the George C. Scott Patton film and have read a few World War II histories, but if you think that you know General George S. Patton, Jr., think again. Stanley Hirshson's General Patton: A Soldier's Odyssey presents the famed commander in full relief, warts and all. This biography, 11 years in the making, reveals Patton (1885-1945) not only as a tactical genius but also as an extremely complex and sometimes hateful man. Hirshson documents Patton's lifelong anti-Semitism and describes how the general's staff suppressed or spun news of embarrassing incidents. Without minimizing Patton's courage or the brilliance of his battlefield maneuvers, the biographer places this soldier's soldier under intense and often revelatory scrutiny, and his account of Patton's dismissal from the command of the Third Army differs significantly from previous versions.
Publishers Weekly
CUNY history professor Hirshson's exhaustively researched and well-written biography presents a balanced view of Patton's life from every angle, from his performance in the 1912 Olympics to his belief in reincarnation. Of course, most of the book chronicles his career in WWII, and the material is excellent. Besides a first-rate account of Patton's notorious slapping incidents, Hirshson (The White Tecumseh) also reveals American atrocities in Sicily fomented by Patton's oratory to his troops. He examines the strategies and tactics of the American war in Europe, and includes fascinating analyses of the often problematic relationships between Patton and Allied generals. Tracing Patton's advocacy of tank warfare throughout his career, Hirshson offers the surprising revelation that the general voiced doubts about it shortly before the battle for France in 1944. Extensive use of quotations from letters, memoirs, etc., enhance his clear, stimulating prose, and important insights on Patton from his extended family add to Hirshson's complete portrait. Offering an essentially sympathetic view of the general, the book still describes all of Patton's faults though carefully. His extramarital affairs (and those of other generals), for instance, are dealt with tastefully. The best biography of Patton to date, this will most likely become the definitive work on his life. Not only should it appeal to a wide audience, it should also serve to correct certain popular misconceptions that the film Patton encouraged. 16 pages of b&w photos; 8 maps. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Many readers will find their impression of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. influenced by George C. Scott's Oscar-winning portrayal of the mercurial and flamboyant World War II soldier in the 1970 film Patton. The movie was in turn influenced by Ladislas Farago's 1964 Patton: Ordeal and Triumph. Since that time, two other major biographical works have appeared: Martin Blumenson's Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885-1945 and Carlo D'Este's massive Patton: A Genius for War. Now Hirshson (history, Queens Coll.), author of the 1997 The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman, has produced another 800-page doorstopper about the illustrious and cantankerous general. After hundreds of pages of biographical musings, what more could possibly be said? Hirshson argues that his contribution helps to round out the unknown familial aspects of Patton's life and provides an essential context for understanding the enigmatic commander. To his credit, Hirshson has done impressive spadework in previously neglected sources, especially those relating to Patton's family background. Moreover, the book's section on the controversy over Patton's diary and unpublished memoirs also yields some new insights for scholars. Those interested in Patton will find Hirshson's book valuable reading, although for most readers the earlier books will probably suffice. Recommended for larger collections. Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sprawling life of the brilliant but very nasty American general known by his soldiers as “Old Blood and Guts.” Hirshson (History/Queens Coll.; The White Tecumseh, 1997, etc.) does a fine job of capturing George S. Patton’s contradictions and the decidedly unpleasant aspects of his character, both correcting and amplifying the work of earlier, often worshipful biographers. He carefully reconstructs the famed incident in which Patton struck a battle-fatigued soldier in a field hospital in Sicily and reveals that when the combat correspondents on hand reported his abusive behavior, Patton’s circle took it as yet another campaign on the part of Communists and Jews to sabotage their hero’s career. Patton himself was a lifelong anti-Semite, Hirshson reveals, his attitudes inherited from his patrician father; even after the liberation of the Nazi death camps he would insist that Jews “are lower than animals.” His prejudices, remarkable even in the context of the time, coupled with his refusal to remove former Nazis from government posts in occupied Bavaria, led to his removal from command; the 1970 movie starring George C. Scott wrongly attributes his demotion to Patton’s anti-Soviet views, which he indeed held but did not widely air. The chief flaw in this capable book is Hirshson’s tendency to overdetail. It is useful to know that Patton was dyslexic and did not learn to read until early adolescence, for instance, but not so much to know the statistical incidence of dyslexia in the present general population. Still, readers who keep at this long, dense biography will see that Hirshson treats Patton’s very real accomplishments on the battlefield with great respect. After all, the general whoseized more enemy-held territory than any other at tremendous cost to the foe deserves his reputation as a strategist to rival Napoleon . . . or Genghis Khan. Hirshorn’s highly useful reevaluation will be of particular interest to students of modern military history.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.18(w) x 10.92(h) x 1.48(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Glassells and Herefords,
Wilsons and Pattons

(with Some Account of the Dyslexia Myth)

Exactly two months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, General Lesley J. McNair rated the army's "high commanders" for General George C. Marshall, the chief of staff. Of the seven corps commanders McNair endorsed, only one, Joseph W. Stilwell, attained fame in the coming conflict. One, Lloyd R. Fredendall, commanded at Kasserine Pass, perhaps the army's greatest debacle. McNair did 'Just as miserably forecasting the future of the army's division commanders. He said of William H. Simpson, who later led an army: "untried but should do well." One of Simpson's classmates at West Point appeared as poorly to McNair. "Good," McNair, a dedicated infantryman, noted of George S. Patton, Jr., then the commander of the 2d Armored Division; "a division possibly his ceiling." Even more startling today was the last name on McNair's list of "others," an officer who lacked World War I combat experience, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Omitted entirely was Omar N. Bradley. "This is fascinating," Patton's son, himself a major general, wrote when he saw the list a half century later. "McNair's predictions were not too hot. Take notice of Ike at the bottom of the list-'an also ran.'"'

No American war produced more generals whose names are instantaneously recognizable than did the Second World War: Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall, Stilwell, MacArthur, and Patton. Perhaps Patton has held the most fascination, for his fame stems solely from his skill and determination as a combat commander, not from service as an administrator or executive.Ambitious, controversial, and brilliant, he blazed brightest but for the shortest time just as war helped define him, he helped define it. As he often predicted, students of war today study his campaigns, and those who served under him led the American army for a quarter of a century.

At different times and to different people, General Patton appeared to be different things. To British general Sir Charles Richardson, who met him in Sicily in September 1943, Patton was more cowboy than anything else. "I was led by an ADC into a large room; in one corner, flags of the Allies, very large flags at that, were erected behind an enormous desk. A slim, elderly figure rose up, with pearl-handled revolver strapped to his hip, and greeted me in movietone accent. Was I at war, or was I in Hollywood, I wondered?"' Conversely, Patton's father considered him the heir to the traditions, military and otherwise, of the great Southern family from which he came. Patton himself lived and never felt uncomfortable in Massachusetts. In reality, he was an American, and it is hard to imagine any other nation producing a general exactly like him.

Patrons lived in Virginia throughout the eighteenth century. In 1755 Colonel James Patton, the head of the Augusta County militia, displayed all the family's impulsiveness. After the Shawnees massacred some settlers, James Patton gathered his troops and drove straight for the Indian encampment. On July 8, the day before General Edward Braddock's defeat by the French and Indians near Fort Duquesne, he marched into a trap and was never heard of again.

Just before the Revolutionary War, Robert Patton, a Scotsman, came to the New World and settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. About 1793 he married Anne Gordon Mercer, the only daughter of the Revolutionary War hero General Hugh Mercer, who was killed at the Battle of Princeton in 1777, and for whom the New Jersey county containing that town is named. Of their six children the most distinguished was John Mercer Patton, who lived from 1797 to 1858. He served in Congress from 1830 to 1838 and was for a short time the acting governor of Virginia. John Mercer Patton and his wife, Margaret French Williams, in turn produced twelve children. They named the sixth, born on June 26, 1833, George Smith Patton.

During his brief life George Smith Patton had two great loves: the military and Susan Thornton Glassell. A graduate in 1852 of the Virginia Military Institute, he practiced law in Charleston, Virginia, now West Virginia. He also led the county militia unit, the Kanawha Riflemen. "It was well trained and equipped," George Smith Patton's commander informed his son sixty years later, "all of which was due to your Fathers energy and genius. The Kanawha Riflemen was composed of the best young & old men in Charleston & the Valley. Many of them have become distinguished & all were engaged in developing the resources of the Valley. Your Father served with me in many engagements & I have never had a more efficient & gallant officer under my command." In 1859, when John Brown captured the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, the Kanawha Riflemen was among the units rushed into action to retake the place .

In the fall of 1854 George Smith Patton, then twenty-one, met his other love, Susan Thornton Glassell, two years his junior. That November, from Richmond, Susan described the relationship to her cousin, Virginia Ring:

You will be astonished when I tell you that to this individual I have given my entire heart. He is one of God's own noble men a work of his own hands. He is a son of Mr. M. Patton of this place. His name is George. I met with him last evening and liked him from the first moment that I saw him.... I have been engaged to him now rather more than six weeks, and every day develops some new and noble treat.... His hair is as black as a raven's wing with eyes of the same hue but oh my, so deep, so bright, and so full of soul. He is very fond of fun and we keep up a most incessant chatter.

The Glassell family bore little of the luster of the Patrons. Originally from Virginia, Susan had grown up deep in Alabama in Greensboro, where her father, Andrew Glassell, Sr., engaged principally in hiring out his slaves to a Mr. Franklin Randolph. In January 183 5, just after moving to Alabama, he urged his wife, Susan Thompson Thornton Glassell, to send her brother, Dr. William Thornton, there....

General Patton. Copyright © by Stanley Hirshson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Stanley P. Hirshson was professor of history at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of biographies of Brigham Young, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Gen. George Patton, and died in 2003.

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