Greatness in Their Blood

No. 263

by Jacquelyn Procter Reeves

Among the items in the Patton Museum and Center of Leadership in Fort Knox, Kentucky is a saddle that General George Smith Patton III had used in his youth. It was his grandfather’s saddle, and Col. George Patton was on that saddle when he was mortally wounded on September 19, 1864 at the age of 33. He died a few days later, September 25, from infection.

Col. George Patton, a native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and member of the 22nd Virginia, was a casualty of the Third Battle of Winchester. He was buried in Winchester at the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery. After the Civil War ended, Col. Patton’s widow moved her children to California. Perhaps the memories and devastation in Virginia were too much to bear. Her husband was one of seven brothers who fought in the war, including brother-in-law Waller Tazewell Patton, killed during Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Fifty-four years plus one day later, on September 26, 1918, some of the bloodiest fighting was underway in the Argonne Forest in France. Colonel George Patton III, then almost 33-years-old, commanded a tank battalion when he was wounded in the leg by German machine-gun fire. He lay in a shell hole for several hours and wondered if the shadow of death would soon be upon him. No doubt his thoughts turned to his grandfather, who had also been wounded in the leg. The similarities were too much to ignore. The two men were the same age; both were colonels of the same name when they were shot, both were wounded in the leg and his grandfather had died 54 years earlier, almost to the day.

Perhaps it was from a loss of blood, or one of the visions he was known to have, but Patton was soon at peace. While lying in the foxhole, he saw the images of his ancestors who assured him that it was not yet his time to leave earth. Their comfort, and their approval, gave him the sense that there was still much for him to accomplish.

George Patton survived his wounds to become a controversial and much-celebrated general in World War II. He was born to lead others into battle, he felt, yet after surviving the many close calls that should have claimed his life, the circumstances of his death were relatively bizarre.

On December 8, 1945, General Patton and his chief of staff, Major General Hobart Gay, left in Patton’s 1938 Cadillac to go on a hunting trip. It was driven by Private First Class Horace Woodring. A 2.5 ton truck turned suddenly in front of them and the two vehicles collided. General Patton was paralyzed from the neck down. He was in traction for the next 12 days until he died in his sleep in a Heidelberg hospital on December 21, 1945. He was buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.