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Lot 245

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Description: GEORGE S. PATTON JR., Autograph Letter Initialed, to his father, George S. Patton, January 10, 1918, [Langres, France]. 1 p., 8.25" x 10.625". Expected folds; very good.

Complete Transcript:

Jan 10 18

Dear Papa:

I hope you have by now decided to go to Thomasville and have started. I also hope that you come over here  if you are coming do it before March as we will all be too busy then.

I have been up at Arras so have not had a chance to write for a few days  the ground there is badly cut up by the shells and it is very cold still it might have been worse.

I have 19 officers in my school now and must do a lot of building this month. I hate going about in the snow.

I must stop now

Much love


Historical Background:

In a letter a month earlier, Patton also urged his mother and sister “Nita” to go to Thomasville, Georgia, where his in-laws and many other northern industrialists had winter homes. His mother at least did visit Thomasville, and Patton’s father-in-law Frederick Ayer (1822-1918) died there on March 14, 1918, at age 95. Three weeks later, Beatrice Patton’s mother Ellen Barrows Banning Ayer (1853-1918) died at their home in Massachusetts.

Arras is a town in northern France some thirty miles south of the border with Belgium. It had been the sight of a major battle in April-May 1917, in which troops of the British Empire made significant gains in the first two days, followed by extensive losses and no real strategic impact. British casualties exceed 150,000, while Germans suffered as many as 130,000 casualties. For most of the war, Arras remained under Allied control but was fewer than ten miles from the front line. By the end of the war, the city was so heavily damaged that three quarters had to be rebuilt.

In mid-October, Patton was hospitalized in Chaumont for jaundice. While at the hospital, he shared a room with Col. Fox Conner (1874-1951), Pershing’s Assistant Inspector General, and “talked Tank with him.” The next day, Patton was told that General James W. McAndrew (1862-1922) wanted to start a Tank school and asked Patton if he was interested in commanding it. Patton agreed but remained in the hospital until November 3. On November 4, Patton wrote in his diary regarding the tank school: “I did not sleep a bit that night and decided to try the Tanks as it aperes the way to high command if I make a go of it.”

On November 10, 1917, Patton became the commanding officer of the AEF Light Tank School. First, he had to find land, students, supplies, and tanks. In February 1918, he established the school in Bourg, five miles south of Langres, France. Lacking tanks, the school began with plywood mockups. Not until late March 1918 did the school receive its first French-built Renault FT light tanks. Patton and his officers also had to develop tactics for using the tanks in battle.

Patton and his mechanized cavalry did not see combat until half a year later. In August 1918, he was given command of the 1st Provisional Tank Brigade. As part of Colonel Samuel Rockenbach’s Tank Corps in mid-September 1918, Patton commanded 144 French-built Renault FT light tanks manned by Americans at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in the first American use of tanks in combat. Saint-Mihiel is a town in northeastern France, held by the Germans since 1914. The attack on Saint-Mihiel, if successful, might open an opportunity to attack the German railroad center in Metz, France, thirty miles to the northeast of Saint-Mihiel. The offensive, involving the American Expeditionary Force and 110,000 French troops as well as 275 French tanks, was successful in driving back the German salient from Saint-Mihiel and the capture of 15,000 German prisoners. However, the muddy roads prevented food supplies and artillery from keeping pace with the advance, and the operation stalled before reaching Metz. On the morning of September 26, at the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Patton was wounded while getting tanks forward and later received the Distinguished Service Cross for “extraordinary heroism” that day.

George S. Patton Jr. (1885-1945) was born in California and educated at the Virginia Military Institute and United States Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1909. An avid horseback rider, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the cavalry. In 1910, he married Beatrice Banning Ayer (1886-1953), the daughter of a wealthy Boston businessman. He competed in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, in the modern pentathlon, where he finished fifth behind four Swedes. He then traveled to France, where he learned fencing techniques. Returning to the United States, he redesigned cavalry saber combat doctrine and designed a new sword. In 1915 and 1916, Patton participated in the Pancho Villa Expedition in Mexico as Commander John J. Pershing’s aide. In the spring of 1917, he accompanied Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, to Europe. Patton took an interest in tanks and was soon training crews to operate them. By 1918, he was in command of a tank brigade. After World War I, he served in various army posts and began to develop the methods of mechanized warfare. At the beginning of World War II, Patton worked to develop and train armored divisions in the army. In the summer of 1942, he commanded the Western Task Force in the Allied invasion of French North Africa. He commanded the Seventh U.S. Army in the successful invasion of Sicily in July 1943. After the Normandy invasion of June 1944, Patton’s Third Army sailed to France and formed on the extreme right of Allied land forces. Through speed and aggressive offensive action, the Third Army continuously pressed retreating German forces until it ran out of fuel near Metz in northeastern France at the end of August. When the German army counterattacked in the battle of the Bulge in mid-December 1944, Patton’s ability to reposition six full divisions to relieve besieged Allied forces in Bastogne was one of the most remarkable achievements of the war. As the Germans retreated, Patton’s Third Army advanced, killing, wounding, or capturing 240,000 German soldiers in seven weeks before crossing the Rhine on March 22. After the end of the war in Europe, Patton hoped for a command in the Pacific but after a visit to the United States returned to Europe for occupation duty in Bavaria. In December 1945, the car in which he was riding collided with an American army truck at low speed, but Patton hit his head on a glass partition, breaking his neck and paralyzing him. He died twelve days later at a hospital in Germany. He was buried among some of his men of the Third Army in an American cemetery in Luxembourg.

George Smith Patton (1856-1927), was born in Charleston, (West) Virginia. His father was Confederate colonel George Smith Patton (1833-1864), who died at the third Battle of Winchester during the Civil War. The younger Patton changed his middle name to Smith in honor of his father. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, studied law, and became an attorney in Lexington, Virginia. In 1877, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where in 1884, he married Ruth Wilson (1861-1928). They settled at Lake Vineyard, California, where they raised produce and operated a winery. In 1902, he began working for Henry E. Huntington’s real estate development company, and he served as the first mayor of San Marino from 1913 to April 1922 and again from October 1922 to 1924. They had two children, George S. Patton Jr. and Anne Wilson Patton (1887-1971)

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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