General George S. Patton is rightly regarded as one of America’s greatest military leaders. A hard-charging commander, Patton led the US Seventh Army during the Invasion of Sicily, then directed the Third Army following the Allied Invasion of Normandy in 1944, where he led a highly successful, rapid drive across France, and was able to advance his army into Nazi Germany by war’s end.
Like many of the US’s top Army leaders during World War II, Patton graduated from West Point, but he didn’t begin his college education at the esteemed institution.
Patton had his mind set on a career in the military from a young age, but also struggled with reading and writing in his youth. In 1902, he wrote a letter to California Sen. Thomas R. Bard seeking an appointment to West Point.
However, Bard required Patton to complete an entrance exam. Patton was afraid he would perform poorly on the exam given his academic struggles, so he eventually opted to attend the Virginia Military Institute.
This was no random choice. Not only had Patton’s father graduated from VMI but his grandfather had, as well.
Patton’s grandfather, George S. Patton Sr., graduated from VMI in 1852, second in his class of 24.
Although he became a lawyer after graduation, he served as a colonel in the 22nd Virginia Infantry during the War Between the States.
The first George Patton was one of several brothers who served in the Confederate army. One, Lt. Col. Waller T. Patton, another VMI graduate, was mortally wounded at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
George S. Patton himself was mortally wounded at the Third Battle of Winchester on Sept. 19, 1864.
The Third Battle of Winchester, fought between the forces of Phil Sheridan and Jubal Early, ended as a Union victory, perhaps not surprising given the Federals outnumbered the Confederates, 40,000 to 12,000.
It is considered one of the most important battles fought in the Shenandoah Valley during the war.
Nearly 9,000 casualties were recorded between the two combatants. Among the dead were Confederate Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes and Brig. Gen. Archibald Godwin, Union Brig. Gen. David Russell, in addition to Patton.Patton had been shot in the leg and died a week later from the wound. He was buried in the same grave as his brother, in Stonewall Cemetery in Winchester, Va.
Patton’s death received special attention in the Virginia press.
The Richmond Daily Dispatch devoted an article to his passing on Oct. 3, 1864, under the headline “Death of Colonel George Patton”:
Through late Northern papers we have the melancholy intelligence of the death of Colonel George Patton, or a wound received in the battle near Winchester on the 19th ultimo. Colonel Patton was a son of the late John M. Patton, of this city, and is the second of the family who has yielded his life in this war for Southern independence. He was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, but adopted the profession of law, and settled in Kanawha county, where, as the quarter George W. Summers, and by the application of his own brilliant intellect, he soon attained a high position at the bar. When the war broke out, however, he was among the first to offer his services to his country. In an arduous campaign in Western Virginia he greatly distinguished himself, and was badly wounded at the battle of Scary. As soon as he recovered he again took the field, and was in command of our forces at White Sulphur Springs which defeated Averill in the summer of 1863. In many battles in which he was subsequently engaged he proved his bravery and his fitness to command. The South could ill afford to lose such a man in a period like the present; but he has left behind him an honorable name, and his memory will be cherished by all who entertain respect for courage, manliness and high-toned chivalry. Colonel Patton was not probably more than thirty years of age, but he had achieved a reputation of which many older officers might be proud. Two of his brothers are still in the service, both hold the rank of colonel.
Patton had been promoted to brigadier general by the Confederate Congress at the time of his death; however, he died before the promotion could become official.
His grandson spent two years at VMI before transferring to West Point in 1904.
He would serve in the US army for more than 35 years, achieving the rank of four-star general before being killed a few months after the end of World War II as a result of car crash.
(Top: Painting depicting action at Third Battle of Winchester, Sept. 19, 1864.)