George Washington, Kidnapper-in-Chief
In January of 1779, 13-year old Prince William Henry, third son of King George III joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman. The future King William IV was assigned to HMS Prince George, flagship of Rear Adm. Sir Robert Digby, second-in-command of the Channel Fleet. The young man was a good sailor, seeking no privilege – he even went under the name “William Guelph” – and doing his duties along with the other middies. Like most naval officers, his duties involved long days of boring patrol and blockade service, though he was under fire in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (January 16, 1780).
In August of 1781, Sir Robert having assumed command of the American Station, and thus oversight of naval operations against the American rebels, the prince arrived in New York, the first member of the Royal Family to visit the Americas. New York, which had been in British hands since mid-1776, was a booming town, its population swollen to over 20,000, as many Tories had fled there. Despite having been partially burned down in ’76, the place boasted a lively night life, and like many another naval officer, right up to Admiral Digby, the young prince took full advantage of situation, attending receptions, the theatre, drinking parties, and other activities in his off-duty time, virtually unescorted.
Although New York was full of Tories, there was an active Patriot underground, and word of the Prince’s activities soon reached the American forces blockading the city. This gave Col. Mathias Ogden, of the 1st New Jersey Continentals, an idea; he proposed a special operation to kidnap the young prince and Admiral Digby, to be used as “bargaining chips.”
On March 28th, 1782, Washington approved the plot, writing,
The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause, and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the person of the Prince.
In case of success, you will, as soon as you get them to a place of safety, treat them with all possible respect, but you are to delay no time in conveying them to Congress, & reporting your proceedings with a copy of these orders.
Washington’s letter is interesting because of his desire that the Patriots’ wring the maximum political benefit from the kidnapping. Thus his reminder that Ogden was to accord the Prince and the admiral honorable treatment and his instructions to transfer them to the control of the Congress as quickly as possible.
While the Patriot cause might well have benefited greatly from the plot, it failed to come to fruition. The British soon learned of it – there were agents and double agents and even triple agents in both camps – and imposed much greater security.
The following year the Prince was assigned to HMS Albemarle, commanded by Horatio Nelson, which began a lasting friendship. Many decades later, he rather unexpectedly became king, none of his older brothers having produced an heir.
During his reign, King William would confide to an American acquaintance that he greatly admired George Washington, and that if he could be anything in the world, it would be an American.
George S. Patton Directs Traffic
It was during the Louisiana Maneuvers (August - September 1941) that George S. Patton, first demonstrated some of the qualities that would make him such an iconic commander, displaying a remarkable talent for improvisation, a willingness to pitch in a do the job, and a blistering vocabulary.
On one occasion during the maneuvers, Patton found the advance of his 2nd Armored Division blocked by heavy traffic in a small town north of DeRidder. When he reached the center of town, he found a lone M.P. desperately trying to unsnarl a traffic jam at the main intersection, as two columns each claimed primacy for road space.
Patton immediately waded into the middle of the intersection, and began directly traffic, barking out orders, heavily larded with profanity.
Now by chance, this occurred right outside a Roman Catholic Church. And it was a Sunday, so mass was in progress inside.
Naturally, Patton’s loud, high pitched oaths drifted into the church, punctuating the good padre’s sonorous Latin. After a few minutes of this, the priest paused the service. Fully robed, he went outside and confronted the general, asking him to stop taking the Lord's name in vain.
Patton, though an Episcopalian, had a very high regard for Catholic priests. He promptly apologized, saluted the man, and, having already imposed some order on the chaos, turned the intersection back over to the M.P., and left the scene.
For more great anecdotes about Patton see Carlo d’Este’s Patton: A Genius for War or Robert H. Patton’s family memoir, The Pattons: A Personal History of an American Family (The Warriors)
, not to mention the general’s own War As I Knew It
and Patton's Principles: A Handbook for Managers Who Mean It!
, and for those with a literary bent, The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Fire (Studies in American Literature)