Thursday, January 31, 2008
Forgotten Generals of the Civil War: Confederate Colonel George Patton
His son was one of the greatest generals in the history of warfare and possibly the greatest officer in American Military History. Too bad that daddy fought for the Confederacy and lost. Today I will blog the extraordinary life of Colonel George Smith Patton on Mike’s Civil War Blog.
On June 26, 1833 George Smith Patton was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As a graduate of the famed Virginia Military Institute (1852) Patton spent a few years studying law in Richmond. He practiced law for several years but his interest in the military never left him and he kept in touch with his former college professor Thomas J. Jackson.
Like Jackson, Patton was known as a strict disciplinarian had a sharp mind for tactics. In 1856 he sensed that a Civil War was brewing and he personally raised his own militia company to defend Virginia. In what is now Charleston, West Virginia, Patton formed and drilled his company known as the Kanawha Minutemen. In its ranks stood most of the prominent members of the Charleston community including many of the lawyers and doctors within the region. They elected Patton their captain which was the highest ranking position within the company. In November of 1859, the Kanawha Rifles soon voted on a change of name to the Kanawha Riflemen.
Captain George Patton personally designed the uniforms that his men wore and he made sure that their appearance was good as their ability to march. A dark green over coat covered the mens backs with a cape which was laced with black trim on the collar and cuffs. A nine-button front with gold buttons along with dark green pants made these uniforms very unique. A single black stripe down the leg of the pants distinguished enlisted men from officers. The black was entrusted to the regular soldiers and a gold stripe was assigned to the officers. But these fancy uniforms didn’t stop there as Patton assigned each of the men a wide brim slouch hat with ostrich feathers dangling down from the side with the letters "KR" to complete the outfit. As armament the soldiers were armed with the latest two band fifty-four caliber Mississippi rifles with the sword bayonets.
The intense discipline and mutual bond that Patton instilled in his men made them the most recognized and the best company in Virginia. Their glamour was further realized when Patton had them form dress parades, attend social balls and wear White Berlin gloves to all events. During the Civil War era there was no company quite like the Kanawha Riflemen whose flair for the dramatic was equaled by their determination for success. This effect would carry them through the dark days of 1861-1865.
In 1859 abolitionist John Brown led a group of raiders into Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His intent was to arm the former slaves and lead an uprising to destroy slavery forever. The raid was put down by the U.S. Marines but the fear of a slave revolt spread quickly throughout the southern states. The governor of Virginia contacted the Mayor of Charleston, and requested that the Riflemen be ready if the stand off had not come to an end. This fact shows us that the Riflemen’s reputation had reached lofty heights in three short years and it wouldn’t be the last time that the state of Virginia looked for Patton’s troopers.
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861 the men of the Kanawha Riflemen cast their lot with the newly formed Confederacy. On May 8th, 1861 Patton enlisted in the Confederate army as a captain and he brought his men with him. The army with which they were a part of was then known as the Army of Kanawha under General Henry Wise. Patton worked so hard in drill that he was promoted without ever hearing a shot fired in anger. By the end of June he was made the regiments Lt. Colonel and he would soon see action along a creek appropriately called Little Scary.
Patton, the Kanawha Riflemen (who were named Company I) and the rest of the newly christened 22nd Virginia were stationed as lookouts along the mouth of the Poca River. The Confederates had fortified the area with cannon and their role was to make sure that the Federals didn’t attempt to cross the bridge that spanned the river. The area was important to the rebels because the side that commanded it would have control of the rich Kanawha valley and the entire western portion of Virginia. In early July, Union forces under General William Rosecrans defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Rich Mountain. This series of engagements resulted in Union control of northwest Virginia for virtually the remainder of the war. However, the north had to gain control of the Kanawha Valley to fully secure their stranglehold on the area and close it forever to the Confederacy.
On June 16, 1861 Union General Jacob Cox led his men into position to attack Wise in what was to become known as the Battle of Scary Creek. Cox ordered pickets to scout out the area and see what Wise was up to. The two sides ran into each other but the Confederates quickly got the upper hand and the Federals were pushed back. By 9 am Cox ordered more of his men into the fray and the causalities on both sides mounted. Patton and his men were in the thick of it but the men were forced to retreat from the weight of Cox’s overwhelming force. The Confederates retreat was offset by reinforcements of their own and the battle for the next several hours resulted in a stalemate. Long range rifles and cannon fired at each other. The Federals made several charges to cross the bridge, and were repulsed.
Sensing a chance for victory General Wise ordered a charge and Patton’s men led the way. During the attack Lt. Col. Patton was wounded in the left should and he was captured. Fearing a Union counterattack the Confederates abandoned the area and soon lost control of what is now known as West Virginia. Meanwhile, Patton was exchanged as a prisoner of war and this began a series of prisoner of war experiences for the grandfather of the famed World War II general.
After his release one month later he was wounded at Giles Court House May 10th of 1862 and again exchanged as a prisoner on the 25th of May. His status as a war hero worked out for Patton because upon his return to the 22nd Virginia he was commissioned as its Colonel. The regiment remained in the Western area of Virginia defending the Confederate border, carrying out raids and capturing supplies. In August of 1863 Patton and his men successfully defended White Sulpher Springs an area known for housing a famous health spa. The battle brought more success to Patton and more experience to his regiment which would be fully utilized in the Valley Campaign of 1864.
The 22nd Virginia's high tide of the Civil War was at the Battle of Droop Mountain, West Virginia on November 6, 1863. The battle became the biggest battle in West Virginian history and its place amongst the regions history is still discussed today by its residents. Patton was part of a Confederate force commanded by General John Echols. Echols named his force the Army of South Western Virginia. Meanwhile, the Federals under the dual command of General William Averell and Alfred Duffie were ordered to break up the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad in southeastern Virginia.
During the battle, Colonel Patton noticed that the left flank of the Confederate army was in trouble and he tried in vain to inform Echols but it was too late. The Confederates were forced to abandon their positions and the Federal attempt to control the railroad was successful. This setback didn’t deter General Robert E. Lee from calling on Patton and the Army of South Western Virginia for a special assignment.
General Jubal Early was given a patchwork of Confederate forced by Lee and he was ordered to clear the Federal army out of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Patton’s men were placed in a division commanded by General John C. Breckenridge a former vice-president turned Confederate general. Colonel Patton and his men would take part in every major battle fought by Early’s army including the raid on Washington D.C. and the Battle of Turners Gap. Early’s efforts were fruitless but they did prompt Union General U.S. Grant to send his friend General Philip Sheridan to command all forces pitted against Early. The two would meet in a bloody battle known as Third Winchester and the results would end all Confederate influence in the valley and it would claim the life of Colonel George Smith Patton.
On September 18, 1864 General Sheridan with an army of 38,000 men attacked General Early 12,000-man army and the rebels were quickly overwhelmed and routed. During the contest Colonel Patton was wounded as he tried to rally his beloved 22nd Virginia. After being captured for a third time Union doctors urged Patton to allow them to amputate his leg wound. Being a prideful man Patton refused and he died on September 25, 1864. Patton was only 32 years of age. He was buried at the famed Stonewall Cemetery in Winchester alongside his brother W. Tazwell Patton who was killed during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.
Colonel George Smith Patton’s bravery screamed for a post-death promotion to Brigadier General but that never occurred. Before his death Colonel Patton responded to a friends inquiry about his desire for a high rank. Patton said “I desire no influence to be exerted whatsoever, toward my promotion. If my services in the field have not earned my promotion, I should not value it.” These deeds along with his grandson own actions in another war make the Patton’s one of the greatest military families. It is said that the Patton that we know better great up admiring his grandfathers deeds and reenacted them in his back yard. Who knows, without the influence of a grandfather who served with so much bravery and distinction we might not have had a Patton lead a United States army in 1941-1945. Thank god for the Pattons.