By Jim Smithfield
First posted within THE DRUM & BUGLE
Voice of the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table
Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table Newsletter
November 2017, Volume 14, Issue 11
There were six brothers in the Patton family of Culpeper, Virginia, and each of these brothers served the Confederacy. Overall, there were a total of sixteen members of the Patton family, all of whom served in Confederate Armies. Oh, by the way, that total, of course, does not include any cousins or other kinfolk serving the South! There were three Patton’s who gave their lives for the Confederacy during the Civil War, including; two of the six brothers. The subsequent dispersal of the six brothers within the Confederate ranks was an interesting use of their talents. There was brother George Smith Patton, a VMI Graduate, who was second in his VMI class of 1852. George had also taught at VMI along with Jonathon (Stonewall) Jackson. Originally George formed the Kanawha Riflemen, later to become Company H of the Twenty-second Virginia. Then, came brother Walter Tazewell “Taz” Patton (also a VMI Graduate), Taz had taken command of the Culpeper Minutemen, a Militia Unit originally founded in 1776 by a Patton family forebearer. Brother James, also a VMI Grad, served as brigade inspector in his brother George’s brigade. Next, there was John (yep, another VMI Grad) who was colonel of the Twenty-first Virginia Infantry, until ill health forced him to resign. Brother Isaac, who had earlier moved to New Orleans, would become colonel of the Twenty-second Louisiana Infantry. Lastly, there was little brother Hugh, who served as a staff officer for Brigadier General John R. Cooke. Before the six brothers left for war, their mother gave them each a thoroughbred horse along with a personal “body servant” to attend to their care. George and Taz had the most notable combat service of the six Patton brothers. It was Taz who was the first to die for the South. This occurred at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and it was there that Taz’s Seventh Virginia Infantry was among the thirteen regiments in Pickett’s Charge (Note: All thirteen regimental commanders were casualties on that day). One of those commanders was Colonel Taz, whose Seventh Virginia had advanced the farthest before being repulsed at the wall. Union officer, Lt. Henry T. Lee (what an ironic last name don’t you think) saw two Confederate officers mounting the wall together holding hands in order to aid one another over the top of the wall. One of these officers was killed at the wall, he was a Patton cousin and Taz’s regimental adjutant. His cousin was dead, and Taz was gravely wounded in the face (his jaw was shattered) and it would be twenty-one days later when death finally took him. Taz painfully worked each day to scribble a letter off to his mother, telling her that he was soon to die.
George Smith Patton was colonel of the Twenty-second Virginia when he was shot in the stomach at the minor battle of Giles Court House. George sent his Regimental Surgeon away, certain that he was dying from his “belly” wound. However, another officer came by and asked to see George’s wound. This officer then stuck a finger into the wound, wiggled around and withdrew a battered coin from the wound. George found it amusing, that he’d already written a farewell letter to his wife, Susan. George suffered a total of three severe wounds during the first several years of the Civil War. In fact, in 1861, George had refused to allow the proposed amputation of his arm when he was wounded and captured at the battle of Scary Creek, fought near today’s St. Albans, West Virginia. He never fully regained the use of that arm though.
Four Patton’s, along with various Patton kinfolk, fought in the battle of New Market. It was there, that George’s Twenty-second Virginia came to the rescue of his cousin and close friend Colonel Hugh Smith, who’s Sixty-second Virginia had become trapped in a ravine. It was in early September 1864, during the Shenandoah Campaign, that Colonel George found his brigade successfully standing off General Phil Sheridan’s Union Cavalry attacks along his left flank.
The death blow to Colonel George Smith Patton came on September 19, 1864. This occurred during the battle of Third Winchester, Georges luck had run out! How, it actually happened, is not fully known to this day, only that Patton’s Brigade was attempting to defend against Union cavalry and they were crushed. Sheridan’s cavalry captured over two-thousand Confederate soldiers that day and among those prisoners was the mortally wounded Colonel George Smith Patton. George lived until September 25, 1864, being cared for by, his cousin, Mary Williams, in her home before succumbing to fever and gangrene. George was only thirty-one years old.
George and his wife, Susan, had four children, including his namesake George Patton II. After the war, George’s widow, Susan, married George’s cousin, good friend and former VMI Classmate, George Hugh Smith. Smith raised George’s four children as his own. The Patton family of George S. Patton, his widow, twenty-six year old, Susan, and her four children, including George Patton II moved to California, where he later raised his son, known to all, as “Little Georgie.” Growing up, Little Georgie absorbed a background of the tales about Old Virginia, and of course, the Civil War, his grandfather and those obvious family legends of valor and courage! Little Georgie grew to be, of course, General George S. Patton Jr., who in WW I and WW II became the most famous Patton of them all.
It was in the 1870’s, when both George and Tazwell Patton’s bodies were dug up from their original gravesites and both bodies were secretly taken to Winchester, Virginia. Taz’s casket came by way of a special train and George’s casket was already there and waiting at the Railroad Station.
Risking arrest and imprisonment, a very large number of Confederate Veterans were on hand. That night. All were dressed in their full Confederate uniforms and they formed an honor guard for the two caskets as they marched them through the darkened streets of Winchester. The caskets were taken to Winchester’s Stonewall Cemetery for immediate reburial, where the two brother’s bodies remain to this day buried in a common grave. It was then, that VMI cadet, George Patton II, was on hand to assist, that as he was helping to lower the two caskets, Taz’s body fell out of its casket! Taz’s body was of course, recovered and placed back into his casket and the burial continued. All of this, the Honor Guard and the burial occurred very late on a dark night.
Authors Note: In an effort to help everyone who’s trying to keep straight the various descendants noted in my story, this may help you; The first George S. Patton (Civil War era) was the grandfather of the General George S. Patton Jr. of World War I and II fame. The George who came in between them was George S. Patton II, who was born on the eve of the Civil War. This George S. Patton was the son of the first George S. Patton and he was also the father of George S. Patton Jr., now I do sincerely hope that this will clear it all up for everyone . . .
By Jim Smithfield