Patton in Mexico Cover

Patton in Mexico

Lieutenant George S. Patton, the Hunt for Pancho Villa, and the Making of a General

Michael Lee Lanning

Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2023, 280 pages

Book Review published on: December 15, 2023

All of us have those things in life we just can’t refuse. I certainly have my share of these in my life. One thing I can’t refuse is a book featuring George S. Patton Jr. Even though I have read numerous (of the dozens available) books on him, I will never turn down a chance to read one more. Consequently, when the opportunity came for yet another, Patton in Mexico: Lieutenant George S. Patton, the Hunt for Pancho Villa, and the Making of a General, I didn’t ponder the decision for too long. I immediately grabbed the book, and it proved to be a decision I did not regret.

Although I would have read the book anyway, I soon discovered that the book possessed added appeal. When I looked a little closer at the book’s cover, I found it was crafted by Michael Lee Lanning. Over the years, I’ve read many of the over thirty books Lanning had written. In fact, the two books he had penned on his experiences as a platoon leader and company commander during the Vietnam War were two of best I have ever read. I was now extremely confident that the combination of Patton and Lanning would produce an outstanding volume.

Within Patton in Mexico, Lanning focuses on the eight-month period in 1916 when Patton served in the Mexican Expedition. During that period, Patton held two specific positions. First, he served as the aide for the leader of the expedition, Gen. John J. Pershing. Second, he later asked Pershing for an opportunity to command troops and subsequently led the first motorized attack (in a Dodge touring car) in U.S. warfare history.

It is these above positions which Lanning keys on in his volume. More specifically, he focuses on how these positions were instrumental in his development and how they set the conditions for the man and soldier we know so well from World War II. As Lanning states early, “Had Lieutenant George S. Patton not served with Pershing on the southern border during the Mexican Expedition of 1916, there might never have been a General George S. Patton to take the world by storm as a notoriously bold leader and daring commander of the U.S. armored forces during World War II a quarter of a century later” (3–4).

To achieve his objectives, Lanning relies on the words of Patton and his own. Regarding Patton, he makes superb use of Patton’s daily personal journal kept during the period (13 March through 26 November 1916). These daily entries run the gamut in terms of length, detail, opinion, and feelings. This journal provides readers with great insight on the “young” Patton. It is also very interesting to compare these examples with his later writings and his memoirs. There is clearly significant evolvement in his writing skills and his ability to express himself.

Lanning superbly complements Patton’s words with his own. Throughout the volume, Lanning interjects in various ways. These may include providing background information on events or people, instilling analysis, or simply telling the rest of the story. As in the past Lanning efforts I have read, he does this in a highly conversant style. This strength couples with Patton’s journal entries, and the overall intriguing subject matter to make this a very quick read.

To capitalize on each of these elements, Lanning organizes the book superbly. He divides the book into individual chapters tied to the calendar, for example, May 1916, June 1916, July 1916, etc. Within the preponderance of the chapters, Lanning displays one or more Patton journal entries and then follows with his own commentary. This back-and-forth flow from Patton to Lanning is very effective.

As you read Patton in Mexico, you quickly conclude that the biggest factor in Patton’s development was his relationship with Pershing. Pershing was a tremendous role model and mentor to Patton and both Patton’s and Lanning’s words highlight this relationship. Patton gleaned knowledge and understanding of warfighting and leadership from Pershing, which he carried out throughout his career. There were of course well-documented incidents in which Patton may have forgotten these lessons.

Patton clearly understood Pershing’s impact on him, and Lanning highlights this in the volume’s conclusion. In it, Lanning displays a portion of a letter Patton wrote Pershing on 30 May 1943. Patton writes, “Whatever ability I have shown or shall show as a soldier is the result of a studios endeavor to copy the greatest American soldier, namely yourself. I consider it a priceless privilege to have served with you in Mexico and in France” (224).

Throughout the volume, Lanning also addresses many other ways in which Patton’s service in the Mexican Expedition factors was so important to his development as a general. These include his introduction to U.S. Army senior leadership, his exposure to technological advances (motorized vehicles), improving his skills with the media, and simply understanding how to operate as a field soldier. Lanning summarizes this when he states, “It was all these factors—his belief in his own destiny, his introduction to influential leaders and innovations, his reintroduction to the media, and his personal hardships—that shaped and informed the young soldier in his formative ranks. They made the man” (5).

In the previous Lanning volumes, the author has always included something unexpected. Once again, in Patton in Mexico, Lanning has surprised. He has ended the book with an epilogue that details what happened to key figures and locations discussed in the volume following the expedition. Obviously, the focus of the chapter is on Patton and Pershing. However, Lanning also addresses among others, members of the Patton and Pershing family, Pancho Villa, and locales emphasized in the volume (Sierra Blanca, Texas, and Columbus, New Mexico). It is extremely well-done and a fitting conclusion.

For me in my reading endeavors, it doesn’t get much better than a pairing of Patton and Lanning. This is a highly focused volume on Patton and one which will benefit even the most ardent Patton reader. It is a book with the characteristics I have come to expect in a Lanning book—thoroughly researched, incredibly organized, and highly readable. My only question after reading Patton in Mexico is what will come first, another new book focused on Patton or Lanning adding outstanding another book to his resume. Either way, I look forward to each!

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Rick Baillergeon, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansass