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Why Patton Carried Two Guns
We know that George S. Patton, the most pugnacious and perhaps the most famous American general officer who actually took the field in World War II, carried two handguns as his trademark. At first, they were twin Colt Single Action Army .45 revolvers. After he gave one of that brace of sixguns to a Hollywood star he admired and appreciated having the courage to entertain his boys at The Front, he backed up the remaining Peacemaker with a 31/2-inch barreled Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum.
Many thought the pair of ivory-handled revolvers conspicuously strapped to his waist connoted merely showmanship. Certainly, there was some of that. Patton knew the importance of inspiring his troops, and if it took flamboyance to make an inspiring impression then, by all the gods of war, he would be flamboyant.
But, it turns out, there was more than that. Stanley P. Hirshon's biography General Patton, published in 2002 by Harper Collins, contains Patton's explanation to his friend, General Kenyon A. Joyce, of exactly why he carried two handguns instead of just one. It is well known to those who've studied Patton's life that when he was a young man, he was part of General Pershing's "Punitive Expedition" to Mexico hunting Pancho Villa.
On May 14, 1914, Patton came under fire for the first time in his life. He had led a caravan of three automobiles to buy food for the troops when he came upon a band of Villistas. As the latter attempted to flee on horseback, a gunfight took place between the Americans and the Mexicans. Patton was armed with his privately owned Colt SAA .45 revolver, carried in the usual fashion with the hammer down on an empty chamber. In the course of the encounter, he emptied the weapon.
He would later say in a letter to his father, "I fired back five times with my new pistol and one of them ducked back into the house. I found out later that this was Cardenes and that I had hit both he and his horse."
That encounter occurred at approximately 20 yards. Another opponent came much closer on horseback, about 10 paces, and Patton deliberately shot the horse. Animal and rider went down, and when the latter stood back up, a volley from other American soldiers cut him down.
George Patton had drawn his first blood, but in the course of the firefight he had also found out what it was like to be shot at and have nothing to shoot back with. He would later explain to General Joyce why that experience made him a firm believer in carrying a backup handgun.
Writes biographer Hirshon, "Patton related to Joyce that his attachment to two ivory-handled revolvers stemmed from the incident. During the fray, he had had to stop and reload his six-shooter. While he did, three shots just missed his head. Henceforth, in times of danger, he preferred to wear two Colt Frontier-model .45-caliber revolvers. Newspapers often described them as pearl-handled because it sounded more colorful." end quote.
I had seen the movie "Patton" played by George C. Scott and made in 1970 and wondered about the two pearl handled weapons it showed in the movie he carried. At first I thought they were Colt .45 Automatics, the old 1911 that officers often carried into battle until the late 1980s. But no, they were .45 caliber Colt Frontier-model revolvers reminiscent of the late 1800s. So when he started out in battle in 1914 he used a revolver and wished he had two when he ran out of bullets with the first one and thought he might die while still being shot at.