General Patton: A Soldier's Life

by:  Stanley Hirshson      
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 butfor 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 onlydaughter 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 tothis 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 hi

General Patton: A Soldier's Life