1864: “Do Not Stay In Washington”

(Private and confidential)

Near Memphis, March 10, 1864

General Grant

Dear General:

I have your more than kind and characteristic letter of the 4th, and will send a copy of it to General McPherson at once.

You do yourself injustice and us too much honor in assigning to us so large a share of the merits which have led to your high advancement. I know you approve the friendship I have ever professed to you, and will permit me to continue as heretofore to manifest it on all proper occasions. Continue reading

1863: “I Have Not Believed You Had Any Chance To Effect Anything Till Now”


Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C.

June 16, 1863

My dear General: I send you this by the hand of Captain Dahlgren. Your desptach[sp] of 11:30 A.M. today is received. When you say I have long been aware that you do not enjoy the confidence of the major-general commanding, you state the case much too strongly.

You do not lack his confidence in any degree to do you harm. On seeing him, after telegraphing you this morning, I found him more nearly agreeing with you than I was myself. Surely you do not mean to understand that I am withholding my confidence from you when I happen to express an opinion (certainly never discourteously) differing from one of your own. Continue reading

1862: “I Am Sick & Tired Of The Whole Business”

November 8, 1862

…I am glad to do McClellan this justice [grateful for promotion], because altho’ I do not think he has treated me altogether as well as I had a right to expect yet I am thankful for what he has done, & wish to give him all the credit that is due particularly as to day the order has been received relieving him from duty with this Army & placing Burnside in command. Continue reading

Re-discovering General Patton


General Patton, 1944The message arrived at headquarters. By-pass the town of Trier because it would take too long and too many divisions to capture. With a grin, Patton sent back the reply: “Have taken Trier with two divisions. Do you want me to give it back?”

George Patton is an American legend. His leadership, wit, and tenacity are part of the World War II “culture.” He had complex character qualities, a tendency to act without thinking, and a vocabulary of profanities possibly unrivaled in military history…but who was the real man? What did he accomplish? What positive examples should we emulate from his life?

Today I’m pleased to welcome Wesley R. Thornton to Gazette665 for a question and answer session. Wesley has studied General Patton, owns a large collection of biographies about the commander, and has excellent insight into the life, character, and actions of this American general.

(Note: this is a G-rated article on Patton; young readers strongly advised not to read other biographies about Patton without parental consent! I was not joking about his vocabulary.)

The Brief Introduction

Never heard of Patton? Here’s a quick review of his WWII military action:

After fighting in North Africa (1942) and Italy (1943), General Patton’s Third Army played a key role in the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule. Though not part of the original Normandy landings, the Third Army and its commander fought in the break-out of Normandy, the liberation of France, the Battle of the Bulge, and the advance into Germany. Patton’s troops were the first Allied soldiers to cross the Rhine, and, despite the general’s horror at the Soviet capture of Berlin, the Third Army held a key southern position to prevent a German stand in the Czechoslovakian mountains.

Discussing The General: Q&A with Wesley Thornton

What prompted your interest in General Patton?

(Wesley) I was an armored officer in the United States Army and that created a lot of interest as I began to study how I was going to command an armored unit. It was just a nature offshoot of that. He [Patton] was the “father of armor vehicles and tanks. He started in World War I, and he was the guy. If you want to know about armor and how to fight it…you study Patton.

George Patton in 1919, as he begins studying tanks and developing new strategies for mechanized warfare

George Patton in 1919, as he begins studying tanks and developing new strategies for mechanized warfare

How did Patton develop and revolutionize tank strategy?

(Wesley) Well, I think from the very beginning he saw the advantage of being able to move rapidly and without a lot of cover. And he saw that right away and developed his strategy around: move, move fast, and keep moving. The best defense is an offense, and he certainly proved that.

Can you tell us about Patton’s leadership style? What made it unique and why do you think it was successful?

(Wesley) He really spent lots of time becoming perfect in what he was doing. He didn’t have to ask anybody how a fifty caliber machine gun worked; that wasn’t his job and it might not have meant anything to anybody, but he knew. He knew every detail of everything, so he was always prepared.

He was very decisive. He determined how his army was going to operate. They were going to look like a seasoned army, and if that meant you wear a tie and your boots are polished, then your boots are polished and you wear a tie [just like the commanding general.]

He’d studied warfare so much that he knew what to do and he knew he had a superbly trained army.

British General Montgomery and American General Patton

British General Montgomery and American General Patton (I like their friendly smiles in this photo!)

From your reading, how did the other Allied commanders feel about Patton? What about the Axis generals?

[Wesley’s answer concerning the Allied generals was very lengthy, so for the sake of keeping this post under 2,000 words, I’ll summarize and then we’ll go back to direct quotes 🙂 ]

Some of the Allied commanders were jealous of Patton, others simply didn’t know what to do with him. His direct leadership style and “press forward” strategies were not always popular in command headquarters. Other generals weren’t willing to take the big risks or attack with speed  because they didn’t have Patton’s mindset of “How can I win this war quickest and with the least amount of casualties.” Thus, there were times of tension between Patton and other generals, mostly because of their different viewpoints.

(Wesley) The Axis generals were afraid of him. They put him down as the number one general and I think they would have – if they’d had a secret vote – voted him above their own. Now, that’s saying something. They wanted to know every detail about Patton, and they wanted to know where he was at all times. They thought very highly of him; I’ve never read anything that didn’t say that.

Patton had a “press image” during the war. Do you think that image was the real Patton?

(Wesley) No, I don’t think so. I think some of the “press image” came from frustration, [though] he was obviously a man who spoke exactly what he thought… The minute he got into trouble, of the course, the press was there.

One thing you don’t often hear about is Patton’s letters to his family. When he was a young man, he wrote weekly to his parents and the letters began “Dear Papa, Dear Mama.” There’s a lot about Patton that was never publicly known during his lifetime.

PattonphotoWhat’s your favorite story about Patton?

(Wesley) Oh boy, there’s so many of them. I don’t know if I have a favorite story.

Well, I think it was pretty great that whenever he got a promotion, his men would come in and put on the new star…and he always had it ready. He was very optimistic. (Laughter) I think that was pretty cute.

I think something most people [don’t know] is that he was a very religious person. He had real faith, and I think if you’re going to be a dynamic leader you’d better have faith or you can’t stand out there and let’em shoot at you… He truly read his Bible…and I think he had strong faith…and certainly no fear.

And I just have to ask…there’s a new book about Patton that’s been recently released: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly. Have you read it? What did you think of it?

(Wesley) I read it, and I was disappointed in that I wanted it to be more about Patton. It was really about WWII; of course he [O’Reilly] covered Patton in it, but…because I’ve read so many books about Patton that I know [his story] real well [and therefore realized what was missing].

But I think it was excellent for anybody who doesn’t know about WWII, and they should read it. [In this way] it was excellent, and it tells about all the leaders [in an easy to understand way.]

What are some of the most important things we can learn from Patton today?

(Wesley) Well, the first thing is to have knowledge which takes lots of study. Then prepare yourself well [for whatever you’re doing.] Always do what’s right… Be truthful and honest. Be prepared. Be understandable… And [as a leader] be able to gain the confidence of [those around you] otherwise they’re not going to follow you.

A big thank you to Wesley R. Thornton for sharing his knowledge and opinions on General Patton! Watch Gazette665 Facebook this week for fun facts, trivia, and more history about this American general.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What new information did you discover and enjoy through this interview?



The “Other” President: 1861-1865

Q: Who was the American president during the Civil War years (1861-1865)?

A: Lincoln, right?


Oh, wait you mean there was another. Huh? I thought Lincoln was assassinated after the war ended.

You’re correct. But think…Confederacy, South, Montgomery, Richmond… Do you know the answer yet?

A: Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis…who’s he? (That’s why I’m writing this blog post, which is a bonus post in our Presidents’ Month.)

Jefferson Davis was one of the few Americans who was president of a separate nation on former or future United States land. (We’ll talk about the other man next week).

Jefferson Davis (c. 1860) Public Domain

Jefferson Davis (c. 1860)
Public Domain

Jeff Davis was President of the Confederate States of America. Yes, he was on the side opposing Lincoln. No, he was not an evil man. I suppose I could write a book on Jeff Davis (maybe I will, someday), but not today. Today, I thought I’d share some basic information and my thoughts about Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.

Before The War Between The States

Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1807 or 1808; there’s a debate on which year is correct! He lived in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi in his youth. He attended West Point during 1824-1828, graduated 23rd in a class of 33, and played a minor role in the Black Hawk War.

Jeff fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor (daughter of General Zachary Taylor; Z. Taylor was later a U.S. President); Mr. Davis and Miss Taylor were married after he resigned from the army in 1835. Weeks later, Sarah Taylor Davis died of malaria or yellow fever, leaving a broken hearted husband, who retreated to his plantation and a life of solitude.

Five years later Jeff Davis entered politics with the Democratic party (note: at the time, the Democratic party was politically conservative). In 1845, he married Miss Varina Howell; their marriage would last 44 years, and they would have 6 children. During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Jeff Davis served with the United States Army; after the war, he represented Mississippi in the House of Representatives, and, later, the Senate. He was secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce.

Reluctant President

“I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.” ~ Jefferson Davis

When Mississippi – his home-state – seceded, Jefferson Davis made a farewell speech in the Senate, and, then, taking his family, returned to his home. He hoped to receive a military commission from the Confederate government and planned to wait at home until summoned.

Elsewhere, leaders of the new, loose-union of Southern states were looking for a leader: a president. Perhaps it is easily to appoint or nominate someone not present to reject the position. Perhaps his political leadership skills had impressed the assembled gentlemen. Perhaps none of them wanted the job of trying to bring order to a fledging nation. Whatever the reasoning, the out-come was decisive: Jefferson Davis was appointed President of the Confederacy.

When the message with the news arrived at the Davis home, Jeff was not excited. According to Mrs. Varina Davis, her husband appeared “so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family.” Though clearly concerned about the new position and disappointed to not have a military field command, Jefferson Davis accepted the appointment and went to serve the Southern states.

And so, the long four years began with the inaugural ceremony on February 18, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Troubles and thorns innumerable”

After his inauguration, Jefferson Davis wrote that despite the excitement of the people, he saw the future roads of his life and the Confederacy covered with “troubles and thorns innumerable.” Sadly, he was right.

A divisive vice-president and cabinet, military set-backs, argumentative generals, European powers unwilling to recognize the Confederacy, critical press, rioting citizens, currency inflation, limited supplies, cramped resources, family grief, poor health…troubles and thorns, indeed.

Still, Jefferson Davis never gave up his beliefs, his hope, his faith, or his courage.

Unfailing Courage

Despite all the troubles surrounding the Confederacy, President Davis’s courage never failed. He was always looking for the next plan, the next victory.

It would be wrong to not mention the support and encouragement he received from his wife and family. The Davis family remained at the White House in Richmond (the capital had been moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, in 1861) for most of the war years. Mrs. Davis was an excellent hostess, acknowledged for her grace and kindness. The children usually had freedom to roam the executive mansion, peering in on important war councils and meetings.

In the end, the Confederate troops were out-numbered, Richmond was captured, and the president and his family were forced to flee. Always hopeful, Jefferson Davis planned to escape toward Mexico. Unfortunately, he was captured and forced to spend several years in prison, while government leaders of the United States awkwardly tried to decided what to do with the Confederate president.

Eventually, partly through the efforts of his wife, Jefferson Davis was released from prison. He was never brought to trial. Until his death in 1889, Jeff Davis endured harsh criticism for being “the other president.”

Jefferson Davis portrait, 1874 (Public Domain)

Jefferson Davis portrait, 1874 (Public Domain)

My Thoughts

Dear reader, I don’t know what your thoughts and feelings are about the South and the Confederacy during the War Between The States. But, I’m asking you to lay aside the politics, and remember a forgotten president.

No, he wasn’t a president of the United States. He was the President of the Confederate States of America.

He was an American, who believe in the principles of self-government and state’s rights. He was a leader who laid aside his personal preferences and served where he was most needed. That’s a legacy to remember…and it should inspire us!

Happy President’s Day, Jeff Davis!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’d like to hear your thoughts… Did you know who “the other president” was?

Want more about the Davis Family? Leave a comment and let me know…then check here for information about The Confederate White House Living History.




Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene

Well, the votes have been cast…we’ll be doing brief biographies of military leaders from the American War of Independence for the rest of this month. Sorry to disappoint anyone, but George Washington is not on the list.  It’s time to dig deeper into the history books and find some of those “forgotten” leaders.

Meet our military leader for the week: General Nathanael Greene. (No, I didn’t misspell his name…) When the war started, he was a militia private…when the war ended, he was one of General Washington’s most trusted commanders.

Portrait of Nathanael Greene. (Wikicommon, public domain)

Portrait of Nathanael Greene. (Wikicommon, public domain)

1. Pre-War Life  Born on August 7, 1742, Nathanael was the son of a Rhode Island Quaker.  As a lad, he self-educated himself and helped with the family’s business; at age 28 he was overseeing the foundry shop.  It is believed that Greene served in the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1775, but it’s possibly that it could have been another Mr. N. Greene.  In 1774 he married Catharine Littlefield; they would have 6 children. As a conflict with Britain simmered as the taxes increased and foreign trade was limited, Nathanael helped to organize a local militia unit and studied military books. The peaceful Quaker community was shocked that one of their members would study war and expelled him from their church.

2. 13 Battles in 8 Years  In 1775 after the British vs. American conflict began, Nathanael Greene was promoted from militia private to major general of the Rhode Island Army.  Local authorities were aware of his leadership and military knowledge.  Of greater importance was his promotion to brigadier general of the American Continental Army on June 22, 1775. The following year, General Washington sent General Greene to control the city of Boston after the British evacuated. In his letters, Greene expressed support for a declaration of independence which would separate the Colonies from England and make them a new nation. Greene fought with General Washington’s army in the New York campaigns of 1776, and the Philadelphia campaign of 1777-1778 (includes Valley Forge winter). As commander of the West Point (a fort, not a military school in those days), he presided over the court which condemned Major John Andre, who had been an accomplice in Benedict Arnold’s traitorous plots.

The most important part of General Greene’s military service was when he was sent to the Carolinas in 1780. The war in the Carolinas was a mess – literally; before Greene, every American commander sent there had managed to lose an important city or suffered a crushing battlefield defeat. The situation didn’t make it any better: guerilla warfare was common and some of the cruelest British officers operated in this area (anyone know about General Tarleton?). When General Washington was asked to appoint a new commander for the Southern region, he chose Nathanael Greene; in this new position Greene was basically second in command of all Continental forces. Greene divided his southern army and started on a “strategic retreat” – along the way the Battles of King’s Mountain and Cowpens were American victories. With an army of about 2,000 men, Greene managed to cross the Dan River into Virginia, but a week later he returned to North Carolina. A series of battles, skirmishes, and maneuvers eventually forced the British to return to the coast, concluding with a siege of British-held Charleston. General Greene had forced the British to retreat and give up most of the Carolinas.

3. Post War Life Nathanael Greene was given land grants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Some of the property he sold to pay for the rations his army had needed. He was offered the Secretary of War office, but refused. In 1785 Greene moved his family to Georgia. He died a year later from the effects of sunstroke.

What made Nathanael Greene an outstanding leader?

1. He was dedicated to the American cause. “I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom or sell my life in the attempt.” (Greene was 1 of 3 generals to serve the entire 8 years of war.)

2. He was prepared. “Learning is not virtue but the mean to bring us an acquaintance with it. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” (Studying the military tactics and history in the years before the conflict gave him a strong knowledge base.)

3. He believed that America should be an independent nation and never gave up that vision. “We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again.”  “I hope this is the dark part of the night which is generally just before day.”

In summary Nathanael Greene prepared to serve his country, became one of General Washington’s most skilled commanders, and successfully regained American control of the Carolinas region.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I know this was an overview, so if you have questions or something is un-clear, leave a comment.  (It was very difficult to not write a couple thousand word article here, but I’m trying to keep my promise on “short biographies.)