The Last Cavalryman: The Life of General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

The Last Cavalryman: The Life of General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

by Harvey Ferguson

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“Truscott was one of the really tough generals,” soldier-cartoonist Bill Mauldin of the 45th Infantry Division once wrote. “He could have eaten a ham like Patton for breakfast any morning and picked his teeth with the man’s pearl-handled pistols.” Not one merely to act the part of commander, Mauldin remembered, “Truscott spent half his time at the front—the real front—with nobody in attendance but a nervous Jeep driver and a worried aide.”

In this biography of Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., author Harvey Ferguson tells the story of how Truscott—despite his hardscrabble beginnings, patchy education, and questionable luck—not only made the rank of army lieutenant general, earning a reputation as one of World War II’s most effective officers along the way, but was also given an honorary promotion to four-star general seven years after his retirement.

For all his accomplishments and celebrated heroic action, Truscott was not one for self-aggrandizement, which may explain in part why historians have neglected him until now. The Last Cavalryman, drawing on personal papers only recently made available, gives the first full picture of this singular man’s extraordinary life and career. Ferguson describes Truscott’s near-accidental entry into the U.S. Cavalry (propelled by Pancho Villa’s 1916 raids) and his somewhat halting rise through the ranks—aided by fellow cavalryman George S. Patton, Jr., who steered him into the nascent armored force at the right time. The author takes us through Truscott’s service in the Second World War, from creating the U.S. Army Rangers to engineering the breakout from Anzio and leading the “masterpiece” invasion of southern France. Ferguson finishes his narrative by detailing the general’s postwar work with the CIA, where he acted as President Dwight Eisenhower’s eyes and ears within the agency.

A compelling story in itself, this biography of Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.—a cavalryman to the last—fills out an important chapter in American military history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806149684
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 03/16/2015
Series: Campaigns and Commanders Series , #48
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 1,193,847
File size: 17 MB
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About the Author

Harvey Ferguson is retired as Assistant Chief of the Seattle Police Department and a former Instructor of Criminal Justice at Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Washington.

Read an Excerpt

The Last Cavalryman

The Life of General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

By Harvey Ferguson


Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4968-4



For Lucian Truscott, a twenty-two-year-old unmarried schoolteacher in rural Oklahoma, a few years in the cavalry, the branch he preferred, sounded like quite an adventure in 1917. He had once wanted to attend West Point, but without hesitation he submitted an application for the recently advertised Officer Training Camp, sending along several letters of reference. The president of Oklahoma State Bank wrote that Truscott was "one of the most honorable and cleanest men in our city." The superintendent of the McIntosh County Schools described him as "a young man of honor, integrity, and capability" and certified that for two years he had served as principal of Mountain View School. The local judge added that the young man was "well educated and one of the most successful teachers in McIntosh County, Oklahoma." Truscott also submitted a notarized affidavit certifying that he had graduated in 1911 from Stella High School in Newella, Oklahoma, explaining that a fire in his father's house in December 1916 had destroyed his diploma. He added that he had subsequently completed work in "training classes" that amounted to the equivalent of a year of college.

Army candidate-selection officers interviewed Truscott on April 29, 1917, in Muskogee, noting that he was five feet, nine inches tall and weighed 170 pounds. Once the candidate had passed various other examinations, a captain of the 3rd Cavalry instructed him to report for training at Leon Springs, Texas; later the army changed his training assignment to Fort Logan H. Roots, Arkansas. Truscott successfully completed his instruction with the 1st Training Company, 12th Provisional Regiment. Thereafter, the training captain concluded that the Oklahoman was "excellent material for an army officer."

On August 15 the army commissioned Truscott as a second lieutenant in the Officer Reserve Corps. When asked his top three choices for branch assignment, the new officer listed cavalry, infantry, and artillery in that order. On August 29, proudly wearing his new lieutenant bars and cavalry branch crossed-sabers insignia, he reported to Camp Harry J. Jones near Douglas, Arizona. Previously called Camp Douglas, the post now had a new name in honor of a young soldier killed while guarding the border during the fighting at Agua Prieta.

In 1917 the United States joined its European allies, which had been fighting the Great War in Europe since 1914. Even so, the border with Mexico was still vulnerable and required continual protection. It was for this reason that Lieutenant Truscott found himself standing in the baking desert at Camp Jones. His immaculate uniform, consisting of tunic with standup collar, riding breeches, and tall boots, all inspection-ready, announced that he was new to the dusty post. He was an imposing young man. His son, Lucian K. Truscott III, later said of his father: "He was a handsome man, attractive to women, but not big, being perhaps five feet-ten and about one hundred and eighty pounds when he was in good physical condition. But he seemed like a big man. He had large eyes, a prominent nose, large but not protruding ears, broad shoulders, a big chest, and huge hands, with big, square fingers."

Lieutenant Truscott also had a raspy voice, the result of having accidentally swallowed carbolic acid as a toddler. The burning caused permanent damage to his throat tissue, leaving him with a distinctive voice for the rest of his life. Another son, James J. Truscott, later recalled that his father's voice was one of medium tone, not high or deep and fairly quiet but quite capable of considerable volume when required. Will Lang, a journalist for Life magazine, later wrote an article about General Truscott, describing his "rock crusher voice that gives his orders an awesome ferocity."

For the newly arrived officer, Douglas, Arizona, would take some getting used to. For one thing it smelled bad. The tall smokestacks of two copper-mine smelters visible for miles accounted for one—an intense, sulfuric stench. The other odor, just as pungent, was that produced by more than 20,000 horses and mules, the vast majority being prepared for duty in France. The remaining horses at Camp Jones were the regular mounts for the two local regiments. The desert winds always send up more than enough dust, but the three-hour daily drill of 2,000 cavalry troopers and their mounts kicked up much more.

Situated just east of Douglas, Camp Jones looked to the casual observer more like a huge bivouac than an established camp. A few years later, soldiers stationed there would sleep in one-story barracks, but for now the men made do with hundreds of conical squad tents stretched on wooden frames. Sharing the area with the 1st and 17th Cavalry Regiments were the 10th and 11th Field Artillery Regiments. The newly created 17th Cavalry, to which Truscott belonged, was an upstart when compared with the 1st Cavalry. Originally known as the 1st Regiment of Dragoons, it had been the U.S. Army's first permanent mounted unit, rich with a history dating back to the 1832 Black Hawk War.

The 17th Cavalry's portion of the camp consisted of fifteen troop streets, each with about twenty tents, as well as stables and tack rooms. The stables were long and open, each accommodating about a hundred horses facing a center aisle. Along with the many tents for the soldiers, there stood a small number of buildings made of wood or adobe. The main building served as regimental headquarters. Others nearby served as the living quarters of the senior officers. The junior officers, including Truscott and his fellow recently commissioned second lieutenants, made do with their own adobe huts or small tents.

In the horse cavalry, Truscott later recalled, paperwork was an afterthought. The files of the entire regiment, including personnel, pay, property, correspondence, manuals, and regulations, managed to fit inside one small portable field desk, although many records likely made their way to higher headquarters. Clerks made duplicate copies of only the most important paperwork, and as Truscott remembered, "great stress was placed on form in military correspondence and communications, and the use of the third person and the passive voice was habitual."

Of importance to the new lieutenants were the noncommissioned officers (NCOs), most of whom were sergeants with some years of service. The freshly commissioned officers were smart enough to know that they knew little about commanding troopers or conducting mounted drill. The sergeants, of course, had that knowledge and experience but knew that the lieutenants outranked them. More often than not, a new officer and an experienced NCO formed a relationship that worked to the advantage of each. These often resulted in a friendship that lasted many years, long after each had moved on to other assignments. Few senior officers could not recall with fondness the sergeant who had guided him through the early years, and more than a few sergeants could casually drop the name of a successful senior officer that they had mentored years before.

Most of the second lieutenants at Camp Douglas that summer had grown up in the Southwest and were experienced horsemen. Of course, becoming a cavalry officer meant becoming an expert rider. Lieutenant Edward N. "Pink" Hardy, West Point class of 1911, personally handled the task of enhancing the new arrivals' riding skills. One of the toughest officers around, Lieutenant Hardy took his assignment seriously. As Truscott later remembered: "He was a man of rugged appearance, even more rugged character, and a fine horseman. Hour after hour of his suppling exercises at a slow trot without stirrups certainly went a long way toward developing our cavalry seats!"

The saddle on which Truscott and his fellow lieutenants rode during training was the recently adopted Riding Equipment Model 1912. Shortly after completing their training, they learned that the cavalry was abandoning this newer item to return to the old McClellan saddle, which was an 1858 modification of a Prussian saddle. For some cavalrymen, the Model 1912 had brought substantial improvement, but it never gained lasting acceptance among the many accustomed to the old McClellan. To Truscott, this experience was emblematic of another quality of the U.S. Cavalry: "We young officers drew one important lesson which would stand us in good stead. There is always resistance to change in established habits, to traditional customs, and to familiar equipment. And this resistance is always extremely difficult to overcome." For him this would prove true not only in the cavalry but also for the entire army, not just in 1917 but throughout his career. The McClellan saddle, in fact, remained in use until the demise of the horse cavalry in 1942.

Next in line to take a turn at molding the new officers was the regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel James J. Hornbrook, West Point class of 1890, having graduated five years before Truscott was born. The Oklahoman's description of his superior is illustrative: "A ruthless disciplinarian, he was strict, abrupt, and treated words as though they were drops of water in a canteen in the desert." Every day at reveille, Colonel Hornbrook rode the length of the regimental street, somehow making sure that each trooper felt certain that he could see him clearly and would spot any defect. Next the colonel rode by the troop kitchens and mess halls, ensuring that everything there was in order. "Woe betide the troop commander at Officers' Call whose area at Reveille was in an improper state of police or whose [troop kitchen] incinerator fires were not blazing away with the swill pans bubbling," Truscott remembered. When it came to the new lieutenants, not much escaped the eyes—or ears—of Hornbrook. On one occasion, overhearing Truscott address his troopers by saying, "Now, boys," the colonel yelled to the lieutenant at the top of his voice: "Mister Truscott, they're men, goddammit! They're men! Every one of them! They're men! Men! MEN!"

Truscott later recalled one of his early days at the camp. He and the other novice officers reported to regimental headquarters straightaway as directed. The colonel's clerk called in each lieutenant while the others waited outside. When his turn came, Truscott entered the office, doing his best to appear calm. Colonel Hornbrook, with no greeting, informed the young man that this coming Sunday all officers, including Hornbrook, would participate in a "Russian ride." It would include twenty-four jumps over various obstacles, of which Truscott was responsible for building two. The colonel showed him a piece of paper that indicated the locations for the two jumps and some basic measurements as to their design. One was to be a "sandbag" jump three feet high and sixty feet wide, and the other a "brush" jump three and a half feet high and sixty feet wide. Hornbrook asked the lieutenant if he understood. Suspecting it best to answer affirmatively, Truscott did so. The colonel dismissed him and called in the next lieutenant. Puzzlement turned to nervous uncertainty. Truscott had never heard of a Russian ride, had never actually seen either of the jumps specified, and had little information on how to build them. Afterward the lieutenants compared notes and realized that each had the same vague instructions to build two jumps. Some were to be sandbag or brush design, others were to be "ditch," "post-and-rail," or "chicken-coop" jumps. Of greatest concern was that only three days remained before the excursion.

To the immense relief of the young lieutenants, each troop's first sergeant offered advice about materials and possible ways of constructing the jumps. By Sunday, each obstacle was ready, the actual labor provided by troopers. The colonel arrived and led the way, followed by every officer of the regiment. All the riders negotiated the twenty-four jumps without mishap. Since no one complained, the lieutenants assumed that they had successfully completed their assignments. Eventually, some of them were brash enough to suspect that the colonel, sergeant major, and first sergeants had been in cahoots on the project. Along the way, the lieutenants learned how to analyze and solve a problem that required cooperation and oversight as well as, not incidentally, what an assist a first sergeant can be.

Colonel Hornbrook saw to it that his new officers learned everything a cavalry leader needed to know. One class of instruction, seemingly unimportant at the time, would prove useful to Truscott a quarter of a century later in the rugged and nearly impassable mountains of Sicily and mainland Italy, where not even Jeeps or tanks could negotiate the steep and precarious trails.

The class was entitled "Pack Transportation" and taught the officers how to pack a mule. A mule train, the lieutenants learned, consisted of men and animals. The men were the muleteers, sometimes called "muleskinners," and included the pack master, a blacksmith, a stevedore, ten packers, and a cook. The mules consisted of the lead mule, known as the bell mare, fourteen mules for riding, and fifty pack mules to carry the cargo. Each pack mule of the sixty-five-mule train carried more than two hundred pounds on its back and sides, its cargo securely lashed onto a special packsaddle called an "aparejo." Two packers worked together to load a mule, using a sling rope, a diamond hitch, and just five words: "cinch, rope, go, tie, and rope." The bell mare knew what to do, and most of the pack mules were "bell sharp" animals that lined up for packing when they heard the sound of the bell on the mare's neck. Yet some of the newer, untrained mules required close watch. To spot these rookie beasts more easily, the muleteers roached their manes and clipped their tails, leaving only tassels. If not watched, the "shavetail" mules, like the shavetail second lieutenants, were bound to find trouble.

Within a few weeks, Truscott understood the routine and rhythm of the camp. Drills and ceremonies filled the days. Army leadership believed that soldiers had to be ready to fight even if not required to do so, and of course, there was always the possibility of a border flare-up. These duties kept the men prepared for war and, not incidentally, left little time to get into mischief. Commanders believed in something else as well. In those days music was important. A lone bugler—then called a trumpeter—regulated the daily schedule of the entire camp, from the regimental commander to the newest private. Music was also a way to maintain morale, and chorus masters moved from post to post teaching soldiers new songs. "Over There" became a favorite.

In the years before the Great War—its name before it became necessary to count world wars—the essential tactics of the cavalry and the rest of the army still relied on lessons from the Civil War. The army refined its tactics only slightly through their use in the Indian Wars (as the cavalry called them), the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and most recently the Punitive Expedition. Except for those officers and soldiers serving in Europe, exposure to modern tactics remained limited. Stateside officers read about airplanes, tanks, and trench warfare but made no significant changes in their duties as a result. Soldiering at home looked the same as it had for the past fifty years. West Point cadets still studied Gettysburg, not Verdun. There was nothing new or different in the curriculum, nor would there be until some Great War veteran commanders returned home and undertook the arduous and unpopular task of forcing needed changes. Many officers of the cavalry, perhaps the most conservative branch, resisted any real change. For others, including future generals George Patton and Truscott, it was not whether change would come but how best to manage it.

For Truscott and his fellow junior officers and NCOs of the 17th Cavalry, an unanticipated result of the Great War became apparent. Preparing the army for war meant increasing its size significantly and training its many new recruits. Thus in the 17th Cavalry and elsewhere, the army promoted most of the experienced officers to higher rank and commissioned many experienced NCOs. These men moved to other posts to train and lead various units bound for France. Consequently, the previously novice lieutenants found themselves regarded as the experienced cadre and necessarily assumed greater leadership duties sooner than expected.

Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, finally arrived, and not too soon for the vast majority of Americans. For the young, untried, and still-naïve lieutenants looking to make an early mark in the service, however, this meant that service in France was no longer a possibility. Even those officers who had witnessed the horror of trench warfare did not necessarily see Armistice Day as a joyful occasion. The army had given many of them temporary promotions to higher ranks and had commissioned many from enlisted ranks. Both groups would likely lose their temporary promotions and revert to their permanent ranks. It was fortunate for Truscott that on December 10, 1918, his temporary wartime rank of first lieutenant became permanent.

A few months later unexpected news arrived for the 17th Cavalry. The army was transferring the regiment, at least temporarily, to the Territory of Hawaii. Orders stated that it would report to San Francisco to board the transport ship USS Sherman on April 5, 1919. The regiment was to bring its mounts, weapons, ammunition, and all varieties of supplies for duty in the islands. Getting all this done would be quite an undertaking, but for the adventurous Lieutenant Truscott, it was an opportunity eagerly anticipated.


Excerpted from The Last Cavalryman by Harvey Ferguson. Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1. On the Border with the Horse Cavalry,
2. The Early Truscotts,
3. Hawaiian Holiday,
4. Back to the Mainland,
5. The Dead,
6. The Down and Out,
7. Student and Instructor Again,
8. Preparing for War,
9. Called to Washington, 1942,
10. A Truscott Returns to England,
11. First Look at War,
12. Preparing for Battle,
13. Invading North Africa,
14. Running Ike's Advanced Command Post,
15. Invasion Planning, Sicily,
16. Joss Force Assault,
17. The Bloody Pursuit through Sicily,
18. Salerno and the Road to Anzio,
19. Cassino: No Light at the End of the Tunnel,
20. Anzio, a Halfway Measure,
21. Taking Charge,
22. The Wait,
23. Southern France, the Perfect Invasion,
24. Attempting a Cannae,
25. Return to Italy,
26. The Final Push,
27. Last Battle,
28. The End of a War and Other Affairs,
29. Spying on the Spies and Retirement,
30. A Cavalryman's Last Parade,

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