US General Joseph Stilwell

General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell American General – 1883-1946

Surely the most famous Stilwell is the American General Joseph Warren Stilwell. Much has been written about him but here is a perspective from a “Limey”. Born in Florida in 1883, of a middle-class New York family from Yonkers, he entered West Point in 1900. His military career was unusual in that he spent a lot of it in teaching and intelligence roles and he rarely commanded troops during his Army service. Despite this, he┬árose to the rank of General by the end of WW1, indicating that he was good at what he did.

His nickname came from his personality – he lacked tact and diplomacy. However, maybe because of this, he became an expert in the affairs in the Far East and was able to understand the problems of military action in Burma and China. He was appointed as liaison between the Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek and the allies.

Always at odds with most of the other allied leaders (although Far East supreme commander Lord Louis Mountbatten recognised his skills and tried to channel them), he was more at home with the foot soldier. He was more of what is called a “soldier’s soldier” rather than a diplomatic soldier. Because of a failing relationship with Chiang he was recalled to Washington in 1944. Chaig was a corrupt and unsuccessful military leader but the Allies persisted in supporting him rather than the communist leader Mao Zedong. The failure of Chiang was no reflection on general Stilwell who had a nearly impossible job and was probably the best US General available at the time to do that job. He was responsible for the construction of the Stilwell Road between Burma and India and this was definitely a major success. See “Interesting facts” for more on this road.

He died of stomach cancer on 12th October 1946. Joseph’s family can trace their lineage directly back to Nicholas Stilwell of Virginia.