Eight Famous Military Affairs, From Petraeus to Washington

See the mistresses of Eisenhower, Patton, Custer—and Benedict Arnold himself.

David Petraeus isn’t the first American general to commit adultery. See the mistresses of Eisenhower, Patton, Custer—and Benedict Arnold himself.

ISAF / AP Photo

David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell

America’s top spy apparently couldn’t conduct a covert affair. CIA director David Petraeus resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital relationship. The former four-star general, who has been married for 38 years, had reportedly been involved with Paula Broadwell, the 40-year-old coauthor of his now-humorously named biography, All In. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” Petraeus wrote in his resignation letter to the president. It’s a sentiment that echoes Rule No. 5 in Petraeus’s Rules of Living, which Newsweek published last week: “We all will make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rear­ view mirrors—drive on and avoid making them again.”

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Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby

For decades, Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby denied that they had an affair during World War II, when she chauffeured the supreme allied commander throughout Europe. But in 1976, seven years after Ike died, Summersby published her second memoir and admitted that the two had had a relationship. “I feel free to talk about it now,” Summersby wrote. “The General is dead. I am dying. When I wrote Eisenhower Was My Boss in 1948, I omitted many things, changed some details, glossed over others to disguise as best I could the intimacy that had grown between General Eisenhower and me. It was better that way.” Many historians question whether the affair was ever actually consummated, but according to a 1974 oral history of Harry Truman, Eisenhower wrote the General of the Army, George C. Marshall, and informed him of his plans to divorce his wife and marry Summersby. Marshall reportedly threatened to run Eisenhower “out of the Army” and prevent him from “ever drawing a peaceful breath.”

(L) Bettman / Corbis (R) AP Photo

George Patton and Jean Gordon

While Dwight Eisenhower was riding shotgun with Kay Summersby during World War II, one of his most trusted generals, George S. Patton, was carrying on a scandalous affair of his own. Before the war, Old Blood and Guts started getting hot and heavy with Jean Gordon, his wife Beatrice’s niece by marriage. Days after Patton’s accidental death in 1945, the 30-year-old Gordon committed suicide by sticking her head in a gas oven.

(L) AP Photo

Douglas MacArthur and Isabel Rosario Cooper

No American general was a better friend to the Philippines than Douglas MacArthur, who famously liberated the nation during World War II. Perhaps his love for the country had something to do with the affair he began in 1930 with Isabel Rosario Cooper, a 27-year-old Filipina actress known as “Dimples.” When he was appointed Army chief of staff, the newly divorced MacArthur brought Cooper to live with him in Washington, D.C., but soon ended the relationship when news of the affair started to become known. According to MacArthur’s biographer William Manchester, the general “showered [Cooper] with presents and bought her many lacy tea gowns, but no raincoat. She didn’t need one, he told her; her duty lay in bed.”

(R) Mathew Brady / AP Photo

George Custer and Mo-nah-se-tah

How’s this for a complicated relationship history? In 1867, George Armstrong Custer was court-martialed for being AWOL when he went to visit his wife. Ten months later, he was reinstated to duty in order to lead a campaign against the Cheyenne. Following the battle of Washita River in 1868, in which Custer’s 7th cavalry defeated Chief Black Kettle and took 53 women and children captive, Custer reportedly married one of the Cheyenne women. According to Cheyenne oral history, Custer then had a child (and perhaps two) with Mo-na-set-ah, the 17-year-old daughter of a Cheyenne chief. Eight years later, however, the Cheyenne (and several other tribes) got their revenge when Custer was famously killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

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William Tecumseh Sherman and Mary Audenreid

Following William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, it was rumored that the Civil War general spared many cities because he actually had mistresses throughout the South. While no evidence exists to prove that theory, one of Sherman’s biographers argued that the general had an intimate relationship with Mary Audenreid, widow of his chief of staff—perhaps as soon as six weeks after his death. In 1890, Sherman wrote a letter to Mrs. Audenreid about her daughter in which he sounds relatively enlightened for a 19th-century man. “The world has changed,” Sherman wrote. “Woman is no longer the slave of the man, but his equal. The life of an American is the family, on which all society is based—take away the Mother and the world goes back to chaos.”

Library of Congress / AP Photo

Benedict Arnold and Mistress Sage

If you’re in a relationship with Benedict Arnold, you can’t exactly expect him to remain loyal. The Revolutionary War general, who famously changed sides in 1779, was not only married—he even collaborated with his wife in assisting the British. But in the late 1780s, with his wife, Peggy, in England, Arnold began an affair with a woman in New Brunswick, Canada, where he was living. John Sage, who later became John Arnold, was believed to be Arnold’s illegitimate son and was included in his will.

(R) Corbis

George Washington and Sally Fairfax

We cannot tell a lie—George Washington almost certainly did not have an affair with Sally Fairfax, wife of his mentor, William Fairfax, one of the most prominent men in Virginia. But the young soldier was clearly smitten with her. “Tis true, I profess myself a Votary to Love,” Washington famously wrote to her in 1758. “I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand tender passages that I wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive them—but experience alas! Sadly reminds me how Impossible this is.” The following year, Washington married the wealthy widow Martha Dandrige Custis—and the rest is American history.