Patton, George S.
Patton, George S. 1885-1945
(Full name George Smith Patton, Jr.) American military commander, memoirist, historian, nonfiction writer, and poet.
General George S. Patton, Jr. commanded United States tank forces in World War II, conducting important campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily, France, and Germany. Nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," he was known for his flamboyant manner, his often crude or impolitic public statements and actions, and his decisive leadership as a commander. In addition to his extroverted qualities, however, Patton was a scholar of history who possessed—according to many who knew him well—a surprising degree of sensitivity. His scholarship found expression in his military writings, and his sensitivity in his poetic work. Except for articles in military journals and a handful of poems that appeared in newspapers, however, the majority of his output was published only after his death. His nonfiction, his poetry, and his life shared a common theme: a preoccupation with war.
Patton's family came originally from Virginia, where many of his forebears had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. By the time he was born in 1885, however, the wealthy and influential Patton family had settled in San Gabriel, California. Because he suffered from dyslexia, Patton had to be educated at home, and even when he entered a private school in Pasadena, he found himself an object of ridicule. He spent his first year of college at Virginia Military Institute, but transferred to West Point in 1905. After his graduation, Patton received a commission as a first lieutenant in the cavalry. The next decade he served in Illinois, Virginia, and Kansas and competed on the U.S. pentathlon team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.In 1916, Patton went to Mexico with General John J. Pershing in an attempt to capture rebel leader Pancho Villa after the revolutionary's forces killed some U.S. citizens in New Mexico. Though the army never caught Villa, Patton did kill three of the latter's bodyguards. More importantly, he took an automobile out on patrol, which may have been the first use of a motor vehicle in combat by the U.S. Army. Soon Patton would have an opportunity for greater exposure to the principal of mechanized combat, when in 1917 he went with Pershing to France. Up to that time he had been a cavalry officer, but mounted warfare was being superseded by tank combat, which made its debut in World War I. Patton became the first member of the U.S. military to receive tank training. In two offensives during September of 1918, he led the 1st Tank Brigade, which he had organized. Wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive on 26 September 1918, he received a Purple Heart and was forced to sit out the remaining seven weeks of the war—which from Patton's perspective amounted to a form of punishment. Later he would say, "All my life, I have wanted to lead a lot of men in a desperate battle"; but he would have to wait more than two decades for his opportunity to do so. During the years between the world wars, Patton—who had temporarily received the rank of colonel during wartime—was returned to the rank of captain and rose slowly again to colonel's rank. As another war began to seem inevitable, he was promoted to brigadier general and given increasing responsibility over tank and desert warfare operations.
On 8 November 1942, Patton and his Western Task Force landed in Morocco, the first significant American counteroffensive in the European Theatre during World War II. Following defeat of an American force in Tunisia's Kasserine Pass, he was made commander of II Corps in March of 1943 and lasted two weeks in the post before being removed because of inappropriate remarks he made to a British officer. Later he took charge of the Seventh Army, and in July and August of 1943 directed a highly successful offensive in Sicily. But when on 16 August 1943, he slapped two soldiers in a field hospital, claiming that they were fit for battle and only feigning sickness out of cowardice, he was sent to England. While the Allies—including his rival, British General Bernard Montgomery—overran Italy, Patton took command of the new Third Army in Britain. On 6 July 1944, a month after the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, Patton's forces landed in France and began to advance across the northern part of that country toward Germany. Patton's force conducted an especially rapid and effective offensive in France and the Low Countries, where they fought with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. Following the defeat of the Germans in that battle, the last significant Nazi offensive, Patton's Third Army pressed on to the Rhine, facing heavy resistance from German forces. When he reached the Rhine on 22 March 1945, Patton—in a characteristic touch—urinated in the river. He turned his troops toward the southeast, entering Bavaria, Austria, and Czechoslovakia in rapid succession. Patton became governor of occupied Bavaria soon after the German surrender on 7 May, but was relieved of his position because he allowed former Nazis to maintain administrative positions in the Bavarian government. In October he became commander of the Fifteenth Army, a unit that existed chiefly on paper. Two months after this humiliation, on 9 December, Patton sustained serious injuries in an automobile accident. Twelve days later, on 21 December 1945, he died in Heidelberg.
Patton is remembered more as a man of action than as à writer. Though he published a few articles and poems during his lifetime, as well as an army saber manual that he wrote c. 1915 at Fort Riley, Kansas, the majority of his significant work was published only after his death. The first major item appeared in 1947 under the title War As I Knew It, a "brief account. . . hastily written" of his campaigns in Europe from the Normandy landing to the defeat of the Germans. In the book, he offers his impressions of colleagues and adversaries, and openly discusses his fears in facing battle. In 1972 and 1974, Martin Blumenson published two volumes which made up The Patton Papers, 1880-1945. Although Blumenson edited them and provided commentary, the bulk of the material came from Patton's journals and correspondence, as well as his reports, memoranda, and other professional writings. As for Patton's poetry, he had planned to publish a book of it during the years between the world wars, but never did; hence the publication of The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr., in a 1991 edition edited by Carmine Prioli, marked the first appearance of his poems in book form. Although the book includes a love poem to his future wife, Beatrice Banning Ayer, as well as verse on politics, the occult, and other subjects, the overwhelming majority of the poems are devoted to the subject of war, which Patton referred to as the "uncrowned Mistress of all time." Most famous among these is "God of Battles," which Prioli called "a sonorous invocation of a pre-Christian warrior-deity whose human apotheosis was Patton himself." Printed on cards, it was distributed to soldiers in Patton's Third Army.
War as I Knew It (memoirs and history) 1947
The Patton Papers, 1880-1940 [edited by Martin Blumenson] (correspondence and nonfiction) 1972
The Patton Papers, 1940-1945 [edited by Martin Blumenson] (correspondence and nonfiction) 1974
The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Life [edited by Carmine Prioli] (poetry) 1991
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SOURCE: "Prometheus Patton," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring, 1945, pp. 273-80.
[In the following essay, Johnson draws upon statements made by Patton, as well as ideas expressed by José Ortega y Gasset, to make predictions concerning the postwar world.]
The appalling thing about the late Big Bill Thompson, sometime Mayor of Chicago, is not how wrong he was, but how nearly right he was in some of his most unpleasant manifestations. Bill's contribution to diplomatic protocol, you remember, was a promise to bust King George in the snoot if that potentate ever stuck his nose into Chicago. He was wrong; but his error was in picking his objective. It shouldn't have been King George. In the first place, that blameless monarch never evinced the slightest desire to interfere with Chicago; and in the second place, the King is not an Intellectual with a capital "I" and recent history affords much evidence that it is Intellectuals who are most swiftly and permanently convinced by a wallop on the beezer.
If this assertion is attacked as paradoxical, sacrilegious, and even blasphemous I shall not accept the challenge. It probably is. But if it is assailed as untrue, I appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober, from our present distracted state to the unclouded judgment of ten years hence. As this is written, we are in the very act of delivering a bust in the snoot to two of...
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SOURCE: "George Patton's Plain-Spoken Diary," in The New York Times Book Review, Vol. 52, No. 27, November 9, 1947, pp. 3.
[In the following essay, a review of War As I Knew It, Wolfert finds fault with Patton's expressed views toward himself, others, and the war.]
In the introduction to this book—a book written by General Pattom from the diary he personally kept until four days before his fatal' automobile accident—Douglas Southall Freeman writes, "It is to be hoped that General Patton will be among the first to attract a competent biographer and that others will leave him alone. He was a man to win, to intrigue and sometimes to enrage his fellow-commanders." He was also a man to dismay those around him who were conscious of American ideals; and Patton, himself, who in all fairness was not one to hide anything about himself, is characteristically blunt and peppery about disclosing in his book the causes for their dismay.
For example, the general makes no secret of his race prejudice even against troops he commanded in battle. Noting the arrival in the field of a Negro tank battalion, he writes, "a good many of [the] lieutenants and some* * * captains had been my sergeants in the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry* * * I expressed my belief at that time, and have never found the necessity of changing it, that a colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor." It is also...
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SOURCE: "Patton Preferred," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 180, No. 6, December, 1947, pp. 128, 130, 132.
[In the following review of War As I Knew It, Miles offers a positive appraisal of a book that aids in understanding of both the war and Patton himself]
War As I Knew It, by George S. Patton, Jr., is the first personal narrative of an Army Commander in the late war—the most picturesque and probably the most brilliant of them all. And for good measure, the Navy's counterpart, Admiral Halsey, simultaneously tells his story. Decades hence, historians will turn to such narratives in drawing the true picture of those who won our war. If their hard-earned victory finally results in a reasonably durable peace, we shall all the sooner come to a just appreciation of them. But the issue of peace is no longer in their hands. Secretary Marshall serves today as a statesman, not as a soldier. While time is with us we might do well to consider our past commanders, for at least they gave us a respite from war and made ultimate peace possible.
Of those leaders, none repays attention more than General Patton—"a man of parts," as I pnce heard him describe a lesser figure. There was little in his full life, of mind or body, into which he did not wholeheartedly enter. Student, horseman, author, sportsman, sailor, and above all and at all times soldier, he was...
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SOURCE: "Peppery Paladin," in National Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, April 14, 1972, pp. 407-8.
[In the following essay, a review of The Patton Papers, 1885-1940, Bakshian applauds editor Martin Blumenson for allowing Patton's own words to control the direction of the narrative.]
There was far more to General George S. Patton Jr. than met the eye. Fortunately, much of it can now be found in this massive edition of the Patton papers. From his earliest years America's most peppery paladin was a chronic scribbler. By the time of his death, there were enough notebooks, letters, diaries, essays, lectures and articles to fill over fifty filing cabinets—perhaps the richest lode of source material left behind by any of the giants of World War II, and certainly the most candid.
Patton's personality was an odd blend of Victorian idealism and primitive knight errantry, with a good shot of flatulent Wagnerian posturing thrown in. Its more fantastic aspects obscured his considerable substance. For every minute spent in public swaggering there were hours of work, study, writing and creative military thinking. Despite a few overstated bits of theory—especially those propounded on behalf of his beloved horse cavalry in its waning days between the wars—Patton was a remarkably lucid, adaptable military thinker. Even his romanticism was an asset, for had he not brought the aggressive dash of the...
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SOURCE: "The Man Who Would Be Hero," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 229, No. 4, April, 1972, pp. 107-8, 111.
[In the following essay, a review of The Patton Papers, 1885-1940, Bunting compares Patton to other leading figures in the United States military during World War II.]
For many it is difficult to acknowledge authentic military genius—and there is such a thing—without a patronizing smile. The very existence of brilliant generals seems an unacceptable reminder of our failures to stop hating and fighting one another. The political systems and ambitions of nations in which men esteemed the profession of arms their highest calling are now largely despised or discredited. Moreover, we have been fighting a war for seven years which has disclosed no apparent prodigies of generalship on our side except perhaps the dour pertinacity, reminiscent of U.S. Grant's, of the current commander in Vietnam. Yet forgetting almost everything about the nature of our present war, men continue to reassure themselves that a really first-class soldier (say, Moshe Dayan), a man of vision and flair, might have cleaned things up in a hurry.
It is not likely. But for a country conditioned by its experience in World War II to expect inspired generalship and innovative tactical and strategic thinking in its army, such an idea is not so unreasonable. For this country produced in the early 1940s a galaxy...
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SOURCE: "Harmon Memorial Lecture, 16 March 1972," in The Many Faces of George S. Patton, Jr., by Martin Blumenson and Ernest J. King, United States Air Force Academy, 1972, pp. 1-26.
[In the following essay, an address given to the United States Air Force Academy on March 16, 1972, Blumenson summarizes the life and complex character of Patton.]
General and Mrs. Clark, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am doubly privileged this evening. It is a great privilege for me to be asked to give this 14th Annual Harmon Lecture, which honors the memory of a distinguished Air Force officer. It is a great privilege also to talk with you about General George S. Patton, Jr., a distinguished Army officer. I hope that my association with the Naval War College will draw the Navy and the Marine Corps into our session here and make it a complete family affair.
I regard it as a distinct honor to have been asked to work in the Patton papers.1 I discovered there the development of a highly skilled professional and the growth of a very warm and engaging person. Quite apart from the professional concerns that George Patton documented, he left a record of a thoroughly likeable human being, a man of great charm. In addition to the pages of memoranda, speeches, instructions that he left, he wrote literally thousands of letters to his wife. They were always about...
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SOURCE: "The Poetry of General George S. Patton, Jr.," in Journal of American Culture, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter, 1985, pp. 71-82.
[In the following essay, Prioli offers a close reading of several pieces of Patton's verse, both published and unpublished.]
"I have a hell of a memory for poetry and war."
—Major George S. Patton, Jr. to his wife,
March 20, 1918.
Next to war, poetry was one of the great passions of George S. Patton, Jr. He was a diligent student of military history, an accomplished horseman and polo player, a skilled sailor and swordsman. Above all, of course, he was a soldier but he also saw himself as a poet, and he seized upon the most dramatic aspects of each profession in ways calculated to astonish his critics, delight his troops, and mystify his country's enemies. He saw nothing in the nature of the profession of arms that would prevent him from becoming a poet in the most ancient sense, as a master of great powers of vision and memory, as one able to transcend human limitations and, like the sages of Greece and Rome, to chart the course of destiny.
The thousands who served under him and the millions who have come to know him through films and biographies have a vague notion that Patton wrote poetry of some kind. It is true that he could spin out a satirical verse or song in minutes, but the...
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Should I compare you to the dawning day
What day was ere so beautiful as you:
What colors of the dawn may hope to vie
In their fresh pinkness to thy cheeks' fair hue?
Or if with evening I compare thy face
What stars fair shining that at evening rise
Can in their sparkling loveliness compare
To the pure splendor of thy lovely eyes?
Show me the flower though it be passing fair
That hath the velvet softness of thy cheek
There never was a rose or lily blown
That such divine perfection we might seek.
Though such thy beauty that it doth surpass
All else that nature hath fair or divine
The beauty of thy face doth but reflect
The hidden beauty that thy soul doth shine.5
When he wrote "Beatrice," Patton was twenty-two years old. Still close to the literature of his adolescence, he drew upon the words and sentiments of at least two literary standbys. Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" echoes in the first stanza, while the poem's distinction between physical and spiritual beauty recalls Dante's vision of "divine beauty" in his own Beatrice. Certainly, the identical names of...
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Not midst the chanting of the Requiem Hymn,
Nor with the solemn ritual of prayer,
'Neath misty shadows from the oriel glass,
And dreamy perfume of the incensed air
Was he interred.
But in the subtle stillness after fight,
In the half light between night and day,
We dragged his body, all besmeared with mud,
And dropped it clod-like back into the clay.
Yet who shall say that he was not content,
Or missed the priest or drone of chanting choir,
He who had heard all day the Battle hymn
Sung on all sides by thousand throats of fire?
What painted glass can lovelier shadows cast,
Than those the Western skys shall ever shed?
While mingled with its light, Red Battle's Sun
Completes in magic colors O'er our Dead,
The flag for which he died."19
The corpse in "A Soldier's Burial," written in 1919 and published in The Chicago Sun in 1943, has no national identity or military rank. Patton did write poems eulogizing specific individuals, but here he created his personal model of the unknown soldier whose in memoriam is not fashioned by the tribute of human institutions. Not man,...
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SOURCE: "Meter-Rattling," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. CII, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 148-52.
[In the following essay, a review of The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr., Kennedy observes that the poems engender an effect quite different from that which their author might have imagined.]
From Richard M. Nixon's favorite movie, Patton, millions first became aware that Old Blood-and-Guts, conqueror of North Africa, Sicily, and the Rhine, had written verse. This devotion to such an outmoded pasttime was made to seem part of the general's quaint and old-fangled character, a throwback to days of chivalry. High-handedly the scriptwriter Francis Ford Coppola extracted eight lines from a 96-line poem and had Patton (George C. Scott) declaim them to Omar Bradley (Karl Maiden), his second-in-command in Tunisia, while the two strolled a Carthaginian battlefield complete with ruined arch:
Through the travail of the ages
Midst the pomp and toil of war
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.
So as through a glass and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names—but always me.
So yoked together, these lines, the first and last stanzas of a lyric called...
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SOURCE: "The Legend and the Man," in The Patton Papers: 1940-1945, edited by Martin Blumenson, Da Capo Press, 1996, pp. 836-59.
[In the following excerpt, Blumenson presents a eulogy for Patton through the words of others.]
"I can't decide logically if I am a man of destiny or a lucky fool, but I think I am destined . . . I feel that my claim to greatness hangs on an ability to lead and inspire . . . I am a genius—/think I am. "
—November 3, 1942
If from some unearthly place George S. Patton, Jr., observed the human scene after his death, he no doubt smiled cynically. He had been removed from the post he cherished above all, command of his beloved Third Army, and banished in disgrace to the lowest depth of the dungeon. Then in a single bound he regained his fame and surpassed it. How quickly after his fall from grace had his achievements been resurrected and acclaimed!
In large measure the timing of his death determined the status accorded him. It was too soon after the war for him to be forgotten, too soon for him to spoil irretrievably the reputation he had earned. He was lucky in this too, for he had ever been alternately the hero and the goat.
After his accident had he died at once, the upsurge of emotion would probably have dissipated. He would, very likely, have shot up...
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Allen, Colonel Robert S. Lucky Forward: The History of Patton's Third U.S. Army. New York: Vanguard, 1947, 424 p.
A chronicle of Patton's historic offensive push from Normandy to the Rhine.
Blumenson, Martin. Patton: The Man Behind the Legend 1885-1945. New York: William Morrow, 1985, 320 p.
Blumenson, one of the foremost authorities on Patton, offers in this volume a psychological biography of the leader, with attention to his insecurities and motivations.
Farago, Ladislas. Patton: Ordeal and Triumph. New York: Ivan Obolensky, 1963, 885 p.
An account of Patton's war, from the 1942 landing in Morocco to the crossing of the Rhine two and a half years later.
—The Last Days of Patton. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981, 319 p.
Using materials such as Patton's 201 (personnel) file, Farago reconstructs the last days of the general's life, and relates a Nazi-inspired rumor that Patton was murdered. Farago himself died while writing the book.
Nye, Roger Hurless. The Patton Mind: The Professional Development of an Extraordinary Leader. Garden City, NY: Avery, 1993, 212 p.
Focuses on Patton's intellectual development, with particular attention to his reading of military history.
Province, Charles M. The Unknown...
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