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The Pattons, Part 4: "Georgie"

The story of the Pattons continues. Click here for Part Three.

"Georgie", his mother Ruth and sister "Nita"

Before he had the nickname "Old Blood and Guts", he was simply known as "Georgie."

Since most people are already familiar with his legendary exploits during World War 2, I will instead focus on his life prior to that time.

George Smith Patton, Jr.. or "Georgie" as his family called him, was born on 11 November 1885, in the Los Angeles suburb of San Gabriel, California. The Patton family resided at Lake Vineyard, built by Benjamin Wilson.

As a child, Georgie had difficulty learning to read and write, but eventually overcame this and was known in his adult life to be an avid reader. He was tutored from home until the age of eleven, when he was enrolled in Stephen Cutter Clark's Classical School for Boys, a private school in Pasadena, for six years. Patton was described as an intelligent boy and was widely read in classical military history, particularly the exploits of Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Having lived through the Civil War, Georgie's father shared his vivid memories of the Confederacy. In the Patton home, there were many mementos of the Civil war; from steel engravings of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson to the shell fragment that was taken from his grandfather who died in the Civil War.

John S. Mosby (1833-1916)

During George's childhood, one of the best friends of the Patton family was none-other-than Colonel John Singleton. Mosby, the fabled "Gray Ghost" of J.E.B. Stuart's legendary cavalry who frequently stopped by the Patton family home when George was a child. Colonel Mosby was famous as one of the original innovators in Guerilla warfare.

Georgie grew up hearing tales of daring raids and stunning cavalry attacks from the Gray Ghost himself. During visits to the Patton Ranch in Southern California, Colonel Mosby would re-enact the Civil War with Georgie; playing himself, he let Georgie play the part of General Lee as they would recount the battles of the war, astride their horses.

These firsthand stories, and horseback re-enactments, directed by one of the greatest Guerilla fighters of all time no doubt had a huge influence on Georgie. Both his sense of bravery and duty, and his Guerilla like tactics were no doubt heavily influenced by his early exploits with John S. Mosby and would have a profound impact on the outcome of World War II.

Georgie followed his father and grandfather to VMI for a year before transferring to West Point. He never seriously considered a career other than the military. At the age of seventeen he sought an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He applied to several universities with Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) programs, and was accepted to Princeton College, but eventually decided on Virginia Military Institute (VMI), which his father and grandfather had attended. He attended the school from 1903 to 1904 and, though he struggled with reading and writing, performed exceptionally in uniform and appearance inspection, as well as military drill.

While he was at VMI, Senator Thomas R. Bard nominated him for West Point. In his plebe (first) year at West Point, Patton adjusted easily to the routine. However, his academic performance was so poor that he was forced to repeat his first year after failing mathematics. He excelled at military drills, though his academic performance remained average. He was cadet sergeant major during his junior year, and the cadet adjutant his senior year. He also joined the football team, but he injured his arm and stopped playing on several occasions. Instead he tried out for the sword team and track and field and specialized in the modern pentathlon. He competed in this sport in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm and finished in fifth place, behind four Swedes.

Georgie graduated number 46 out of 103 cadets at West Point on 11 June 1909 and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry branch of the United States Army.

At age 24, he married Beatrice Banning Ayer, the daughter of Boston industrialist Frederick Ayer, on 26 May 1910, in Beverly Farms. Massachusetts. They had three children, Beatrice Smith (born March 1911), Ruth Ellen (born February 1915), and George Patton IV (born December 1923).

General John J. Pershing (1860-1948)

When Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing was sent to Mexico in 1916 to capture raiders under Pancho Villa, Georgie went along. He was on staff, so his chances of frontline service were a bit limited in the short term, but he made his own opportunities. One of them would be when he probably led the first American motor-vehicle attack.

Georgie traveled widely in Northern Mexico by touring car, on foraging and information-gathering patrols. While in charge about a dozen men in three 1916 Dodge Touring Cars on a missions to buy food for the American soldiers, one of the interpreters, himself a former bandit, recognized a man at one of the stops. Georgie knew that a senior member of Villa’s gang was supposed to be hiding nearby, and so he began to search nearby farms.

Arriving one day at a ranch belonging to the uncle of "General" Julio Cardenas, Georgie became suspicious that the rebel leader was in the neighborhood. He decided to mount a raid on a nearby rancho known to have harbored the Mexican. His three touring cars rumbled straight for the rancho at 50 miles per hour and split up, covering every exit. Under Georgie's leadership, the rancho San Miguelito had been neatly surrounded and flanked, with his nine riflemen in position behind the steel bodies of their cars, before the dust stopped blowing. A sharp gunfight ensued.

Three riders tried to escape, and they rode right at Georgie who shot two of their horses as the third attempted to flee. Several soldiers took shots at him and managed to knock him off his horse. That third rider was Julio Cardenas, a senior leader of Pancho Villa's gang. The first two riders were dead, and Cardenas was killed when he feigned surrender and then reached for his pistol. Patton ordered a withdrawal when the Americans spotted a large group of riders headed to the farm.

It was a small, short engagement, but it boded well for the young cavalry officer. He had made a name for himself with Pershing, America’s greatest military mind at the time. Georgie’s bold leadership in Mexico set the stage for even greater responsibility a few short years later.

When America joined World War I, Pershing was placed in command of the American Expeditionary Force. Interested in France and Britain’s new tanks, Georgie wrote a letter to Pershing asking to have his name considered for a slot if America stood up its own tank corps. He pointed out that he had cavalry experience, experience leading machine gunners, and was the only American officer known to have led a motorized car attack. Pershing agreed, and on 10 November 1917, Georgie became the first American soldier assigned to tank warfare. He stood up the light tank school for the AEF and eventually led America's first tank units into combat.

Georgie’s Civil War ancestors directly touched him as he lay wounded in the Argonne on 26 September 1918 (a few weeks before his 33rd birthday). At the time he was a colonel commanding a tank battalion. Leading his tanks into battle on foot, German machine-gun fire clipped him in the leg and he fell wounded in a shell hole where he lay for several hours before evacuation. During that time, his thoughts turned to his grandfather, who died at 33 also as a colonel. Georgie later recalled also seeing visions of his ancestors looking down in approval of his gallantry, also saying "Not yet", as if he had more to do before dying. "I would never have gone forward when I got hit had I not thought of you and my ancestors," he later told his wife. From that moment on, he was ever more conscious of having a destiny and a duty to uphold the tradition of his Civil War ancestors, a feeling that guided his actions for the rest of his life.

Georgie's younger sister, Anne, nicknamed "Nita" had became engaged to his mentor, John J. Pershing in 1917. However, the engagement ended because of their separation during Pershing's time in France during World War I.

Georgie Patton (R) and his father in 1919 at the grave of his grandfather and great uncle in Winchester, VA

When the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was given command of the 2nd Armored Division. He was then placed in control of the US Seventh Army in the Mediterranean Theater. During Operation Torch he was involved in the invasion of Casablanca and later, the invasion of Sicily. It was during these two missions that he established himself as one of the Allied forces’ best commanders.

And the rest is history, of which most people are probably aware, thanks to the movie Patton, which picks up Georgie's story from here.

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