On Tuesday evening Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute and Eisenhower Institute welcomed Robert Patton, grandson of the famous World War II General George Patton, to speak on his new book Hell Before Breakfast. Patton was welcomed to the college by Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the famous World War II general Dwight Eisenhower. Ms. Eisenhower expressed her excitement to hear about the book. Hell Before Breakfast follows a few exceptional American war correspondents from 1854 through the turn of the twentieth century and its title draws from Civil War general William T. Sherman’s comment on the death of a war correspondent that soon there would be “reports from Hell before breakfast.” Sherman, Patton chuckled, was clearly not a proponent of these correspondents.
In addition to explaining his new book’s title, Patton took time to explain his methods in penning the book. He said he wanted to “follow characters” and that is exactly what Patton did in his Tuesday evening talk. The first character he introduced was J.A. MacGahan, a war correspondent for the New York Herald, one of the dominant newspapers in America in the 1870s. When conflict broke out in Bulgaria in that era, MacGahan was sent by the Daily News of London to follow it. He was joined in the region shortly thereafter by Francis David “Frank” Millet, another American correspondent from the New York Herald. MacGahan and Millet worked together closely throughout the conflict. Patton described their adventures and triumphs, as well as one writer’s sad end on the battlefield. He closed with the bittersweet story of the last surviving correspondent of this war in the Balkans perishing on the Titanic, while enjoying one last glass of whiskey. To find out more about the lives and adventures of these and many other American war correspondents, pick up a copy of Patton’s engaging new book Hell Before Breakfast.