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Bartford Hamilton Steele III

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More gung-ho than Frank Burns, and crazier than Max Klinger on their worst days

Harry Morgan as General Steele07:49

Harry Morgan as General Steele

General Bartford Hamilton Steele The Third
was a high-ranking officer serving in the US Army during the Korean War of 1950-1953. He is the antagonist of "The General Flipped At Dawn", a 3rd season episode of the sitcom/war drama, M*A*S*H*. He was played by character actor Harry Morgan, who joined the show a year later, playing its new Commanding Officer, Colonel Sherman T. Potter, though no one ever comments on the resemblance. Steele, while not truly evil, was truly insane and had the rank to enact that insanity, facts that placed the staff and patients of the 4077th MASH in mortal peril.

The General Flipped At Dawn

Put-upon CO Lt. Colonel Henry Blake was informed that Two-Star General Bartford Hamilton Steele The Third was to visit and inspect the 4077th M*A*S*H, adding to his list of steady daily headaches. Overseeing that sector, Steele issued a laundry list of orders demanding that the 4077th take on a more military regime, something the mostly civilian-origin officers balked at. Frank Burns protested that Steele was from a prominent American military family, but his arrival soon challenged even the patriotic fervor of Burns and Houlihan.

At first seeming merely cantankerous and straight-laced, Steele soon shows his true standing, at first by asking Radar O'Reilly a question then raging at him for talking in the ranks. He offers up a wartime cliche to Father Mulcahy and then chastises him to put a shine on his cross. Even Houlihan and Burns are not immune ; Margaret is ordered to suck in her gut and throw out her chest, a dubious and problematic suggestion, while Frank is told to trim his nose hairs. Despite Blake's best efforts, Klinger shows up in full dress—dress—and walks up to the General. To the shock of all, even practiced Section 8 artist Klinger, the General merely talks to Klinger like he was his wife, urging 'her' to come back later, when he's done reviewing the troops.

Chief Surgeon Hawkeye Pierce, caught in civilain clothes making out with a nurse in the supply room, tells General Steele he is a reporter, at which point the General, who also urged Henry to re-use discarded tongue depressors, gives forth with a stream of babble, including a prediction of an early end to the war, "unless it rains and we all get wet."

The next burst of insanity comes when the General demands the camp move closer to the front, something that could and would put both patients and medics in danger. While on a scouting mission for the new camp location, Steele demands a salute from Burns and Blake, something which Frank actually argues against, as enemy snipers identify officers in just that way. Reluctantly obeying orders, Burns and Blake duck down as the predicted sniper fire rains down, something Steele blithely ignores as he looks around, miraculously never even being grazed. With the dreaded move soon underway and Henry helpless to stop it, Hawkeye countermands the General's order to comandeer a helicopter Pierce is using to get a patient in dire need of care to Seoul. Hawkeye, blunt as usual, flatly tells the General that he is crazy. The General then calls for a court-martial.

At the hearing to determine if court-martial proceedings against Pierce are in order, the General's sanity continues to slip away, till finally he interrogates the helicopter's pilot, Warrant Officer Marty Williams. At first assuring Williams that he himself is in no trouble for obeying Pierce's order, Steele suddenly asks that Williams, an African-American, provide them all with a musical number, proclaiming it to be in Williams' blood. Williams is confused as the General begins to sing a song called Mississippi Mud, while dancing a jig out of the Mess Tent, where the hearing was being held. Upon seeing this, the presiding legal officer silently takes all his files, places them in his valise, then zips it shut, indicating the court-martial is now very moot. Burns asks if this means the camp relocation is canceled, and Blake says that the General will in fact be leaving them, to which Pierce replies he will do so in a rubber jeep. In fact, the medics later learn that Steele was taken back to America, promoted to a third star, and given charge over war operations in the Korean Theater. Burns feels this proves that Steele wasn't really crazy, which causes Blake, McIntyre and Pierce to dance out of the Swamp to the same tune as the General.


  • Besides this appearance winning him his later role as Potter, Morgan also won an Emmy for Supporting Actor.
  • Maclean Stevenson and Morgan later appear together again in the Disney film, "The Cat From Outer Space", along with fellow TV Military alumnus Ken Berry of F-Troop. While aiding in the title character's escape, Stevenson looks on a frozen Morgan (again playing a general) and comments that seeing this "almost makes up for what I went through in Korea".

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