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The Pattons, Part 2: Brothers George & Tazewell

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

The story of the Patton family continues. Click here for Part 1.

Col. George Smith Patton (1833-1864)

George Smith Patton was born 26 June 1833, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and raised in Richmond. He was the fifth child and fourth son of John and Margaret Patton.

George was tall and slim like his mother, with his father's dark eyes and thick brown hair. Of his many siblings, he was closest to his next younger brother, Waller Tazewell Patton, born in 1835 and called Tazewell or "Taz" by his family. George and Tazewell were opposites; Tazewell was rowdy and clownish while George was more restrained, responsible and protective.

In accordance with his father's wishes, George attended the Virginia Military Institute (VMl). During his first two years, he was in the middle of his class academically and a leader in the number of demerits received. In his fourth year, one of his professors was Thomas J. Jackson, later known as "Stonewall."

When he graduated in 1852, he was second overall in his class of 24 and first in the subjects of French, English, Latin, Chemistry, and Artillery Tactics. One classmate described him as "the charm of the social circle, where his genial wit...made him ever welcome." Although he was reserved in manner, he was somewhat considered a dandy. He wore his hair long and later grew a moustache, for his his friends nicknamed him "Frenchy."

After leaving VMI at the age of nineteen, he decided that he would teach for two years while studying to become a lawyer like his father. George had always been closer to his father than his mother, saying that his father sent "affectionate" letters while complaining that his mother hardly wrote to him at all.

In the summer of 1852, George and his best friend and first cousin George Hugh Smith both began courting a petite southern girl named Susan Thornton Glassell. She was visiting from Alabama, where her family had moved from Virginia soon after her birth. Her pale fragility appealed to George's protective nature. Soon both cousins were in love with her and competed for her favor. George and Sue were soon engaged, although no date was set since George had yet to establish himself in a career.

George was picky about what sort of teaching job would suit him best. He turned down several offers to tutor in private homes. In August 1853 he borrowed money from his parents and with a German-born professor, co-founded an academy for boys in Richmond. George would teach mathematics and English and his partner would teach philosophy and languages.

However, after two years, George was looking to leave the academy. He tried to find someone to buy him out, but there were no takers. Faced with the choice of staying or walking away at a considerable loss of money, he chose the latter and was back living at his parents' plantation in the summer 1855.

George completed his law studies and was admitted to the Richmond bar. Later that year, George and Sue were married at St. John's church in Richmond. They spent their wedding night on a riverboat heading up the Rappahannock on their way to Kanawha Courthouse, Virginia (now Charleston, West Virginia) where George had been offered a partnership in a small law firm. He also served as a commissioner of the county court and on the board of directors of a local shipping company whose president, William Rosecrans, would later become a general in the Union Army.

George and Sue would welcome their first child, George William Patton, on 30 September 1856. They would have a total of four children.

George would later form a militia organization, called the "Kanawha Riflemen", but referred to by many as the "Kid Glove Company" because it was comprised of seventy-five of the most prominent young men in the area. His career as an attorney was short-lived as the approaching clouds of Civil War broke with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861. Following the succession of Virginia, the Kanawha Riflemen were mustered into Confederate service as Company H, 22nd Virginia Infantry and George was commissioned as a Colonel in the Confederate Army.

His mother insisted that as an officer, he should have a body servant so she gave him a twenty-eight year old slave named Peter to act in that capacity. Peter accompanied George through all his battles and, for his service, George paid him a regular salary, perhaps as a secret recognition of his father's last wish.

Only a short time later, the unit faced its baptism of fire on 17 July 1861. George, then a Captain, led his company in an engagement at Scary Creek, in what is now St. Albans, West Virginia. Although the Confederates were victorious in the fight, George was wounded and out of action for some time. He returned but was again wounded at Giles Court House on 10 May 1862; this time in the stomach.

Lt. Col. Waller Tazewell Patton (1835-1863)

Meanwhile, George's brother Tazewell enlisted in the Confederate Army in the spring of 1861 and was elected to serve as a major in the 7th Virginia Infantry. Beginning with Bull Run in July 1861, his military career would span some of the most famous battles of the Civil War. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 27 April 1862 and took command of the regiment in June 1862 following the promotion of the previous colonel, James L. Kemper, to the command of the brigade. Tazewell was badly wounded at Second Manassas on 30 August 1862 and spent the remainder of the year recuperating back home in Fredericksburg. He was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1863, but chose instead to return to his regiment. In the spring of 1863, his regiment served in North Carolina. He then led it northward during the Gettysburg Campaign into Pennsylvania. On 3 July, the 7th Virginia was in General George Pickett's Division, and as part of Kemper's Brigade, formed the right of the Confederate line during Pickett's Charge. Tazewell was mortally wounded while leading his men towards the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge. Part of his jaw had been ripped away by an artillery shell fragment. He died in a makeshift hospital at Pennsylvania College (Gettysburg College) several weeks later on 21 July 1863 six days after his twenty-eighth birthday. His body was embalmed, clothed in his uniform and placed in a cousin's burial vault in Baltimore, MD.

Their mother Peggy was more affected by Tazewell's death than she first let on. "He was so affectionate, so considerate and thoughtful," she lamented. She broke down and her eldest son John asked her why she was crying. "I am crying," she responded, "because I have only seven sons left to fight the Yankees."

By 1864, following several more years of combat and distinguished service, George had been promoted to Colonel. On 19 September, as Confederate Jubal Early's 14,000 troops were falling back towards Winchester when Union General Phil Sheridan 40,000 soldiers caught up with them. It became known as the Third Battle of Winchester or the Battle of Opequon. Early lost one-third of his army and George lost half of his brigade, including all of its officers over the rank of captain.

While standing in his stirrups on a Winchester street, an artillery shell exploded nearby and sent an iron fragment into his right hip. He had been trying to rally his men who were in full retreat in the face oncoming cavalry under the command of General George Custer. He was carried to the home of John J. Williams on Piccadilly Street in Winchester. He refused the recommendation to have his right leg amputated and set his pistol on the bedside table in case anyone questioned his resolve. His wound remained free of infection and it seemed he would recover from this wound as he had from his prior ones.

On 24 September, Sue read in "a Yankee paper" that her husband had been among the wounded in Winchester. After he had been wounded previously, she would rush to his side. But this time she did not rush. She prepared herself for the journey with an air of stoic resignation. "He will be dead before I get to Winchester," she said.

George died on 25 September. He had lain alone in the room for most of the day. When John Williams checked on him, he found George with a burning fever and that the wound had developed gangrene. He weakly beckoned Williams to his bedside and tried to speak. Williams bent low to hear, but the whispered words were "unintelligible." George was buried in Winchester shortly before Sue arrived. She had no wish to move him to the family plots in Richmond or Fredericksburg. It just seemed right to her to let him lie where he fell. It was alleged that the Confederate Congress had promoted George to brigadier general; however, at the time, he had already died of battle wounds, so that promotion was never official.

George left behind his son, George William Patton, and three other children. To honor his late father, George William Patton changed his name to George S. Patton in 1868.

Sue left Virginia in 1866 to live with her brother Andrew Glassell, a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles, CA where she opened a school to support her family. In 1870, Sue married George's cousin and one time rival for her hand, Colonel George Hugh Smith.

After the war, there was talk about retrieving Tazewell's body from the vault in Baltimore and burying it at VMI. The move was delayed, memories faded, and Tazewell remained up north. In 1874, as a cadet at VMI, young George Patton, with his uncle John's assistance, arranged to bring the body to Virginia for burial at Winchester's Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, a part of Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, VA. The Patton brothers, George and Tazewell would be together again.


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