Home History This Union General Had It All: Wealth. Women. One Arm. He Died at 47, Refusing to Surrender

This Union General Had It All: Wealth. Women. One Arm. He Died at 47, Refusing to Surrender

by Enochadmin

Phil Kearny was born on a darkish and stormy night time in June 1815. He died on one, too. A significant basic within the Union Military, Kearny was out conducting his personal reconnaissance, one thing he had accomplished many instances earlier than. However in a driving thunderstorm on the night of September 1, 1862, he and his escort rode right into a Insurgent ambush throughout the Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), a pointy encounter following the Accomplice victory on the Second Battle of Bull Run. When Kearny cavalierly ignored an order to give up and tried to experience away, a single bullet to the backbone ended the lifetime of a real combating basic.

Regardless of his premature dying, this fearless, feisty warrior had managed to stay 47 action-packed years. A profession army officer—although he by no means attended the U.S. Army Academy at West Level—Kearny was destined to die in battle due to his reckless braveness and dedication at all times to steer from the entrance. Former Normal-in-Chief Winfield Scott, an outdated pal, known as him “the bravest man I ever knew and probably the most excellent soldier.” But conflict was an setting he may have prevented altogether. Not solely had Kearny misplaced his left arm in fight throughout the Mexican Conflict—a incapacity that would have stored him out of the Civil Conflict if he desired—he was one of many richest males within the nation in 1861.


If his socially outstanding mother and father had had their means, Philip Kearny Jr. would have by no means set foot on a battlefield, a lot much less died on one. They wished their son to be a lawyer, so he studied regulation at New York’s Columbia Faculty (now Columbia College), graduated with honors and a regulation diploma in 1833, loved a European grand tour, and joined a prestigious New York regulation agency. Then destiny prolonged him a golden handshake. When Kearny’s maternal grandfather died in 1836, he left the 21-year outdated legal professional $1 million ($25 million at this time). Now financially unbiased, Kearny may pursue his childhood ardour, a profession within the U.S. Military.

Though a baby of privilege, soldiering was clearly in Kearny’s genes. His uncle, Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny, was a hero of the Conflict of 1812, thought-about one of many best officers within the Common Military. With Uncle Stephen’s backing, younger Kearny was commissioned a second lieutenant within the 1st United States Regiment of Dragoons—the regiment by which his uncle had served. When he arrived at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., in June 1837, Colonel Kearny promptly despatched the brand new shavetail to show himself at Fort Leavenworth on the grim Kansas frontier.

Portrait of Gen. Phil Kearny. (Alamy)

An skilled horseman since childhood, Lieutenant Kearny thrived on the pains of energetic subject service. Among the many troopers, he was often called a “hunky-dory shoulder strap” (Military slang for an excellent officer). All through his profession, Kearny at all times made certain his males have been well-fed, well-equipped, and well-cared for, even when he needed to dip into his personal deep pockets to do it.

Chosen for particular indifferent service in August 1839, Kearny set sail for France to attend the Royal College of Cavalry at Saumur. When he arrived, he was granted an viewers and several other dinners with King Louis Philippe I at Fontainebleau. To most officers, this might have been the task’s spotlight. For Kearny, nevertheless, it was only a prelude for an journey dearer to his soldier’s coronary heart.

Along with his army assignments, Kearny paid for gala dinners and gown balls for his admiring French hosts. The Duke d’Orleans, a frequent visitor, invited him to hitch the 1st Chasseurs d’Afrique on an expedition towards Arab insurgents in Algeria. Kearny accepted with out receiving permission from Washington. In his first battle, Kearny rode together with his sword in a single hand, pistol within the different, and the reins in his enamel, incomes him the nickname “Kearny the Magnificent”—the primary of his many sobriquets.

Kearny’s first motion made an enduring impression. To his lawyer, Courtland Parker, he wrote: “I’ve seen and tasted fight in Africa. It’s an abomination….But, in contrast to others, I’m thrilled by the cost….It brings me an indescribable pleasure.” The depth of battle would at all times thrill him, however the agony of dying at all times made him worth the boys he led.


Phil Kearny’s personal life was as tumultuous as his army profession. A lion in fight, he fought his “affairs of the center” with the identical fierce abandon he confirmed on the battlefield.

An inheritance from his grandfather had made Kearny financially unbiased at an early age, permitting him to pursue his dream of a army profession. (He inherited a second grand fortune, turning into one of many nation’s wealthiest males, when his father — a founding father of the New York Inventory Change — died in 1849.) Whereas serving in Missouri in 1840, he met Kentucky-born Diana Bullitt, the army district commander’s sister-in-law. They turned inseparable and everybody, together with Diana, anticipated a proposal of marriage. Indifferent service in France, nevertheless, proved extra enticing to Kearny and he left with barely a goodbye.

Kearny returned from France to Washington in 1841 and once more encountered the still-smitten and still-single Diana Bullitt. They renewed their courtship, which this time led to a lavish wedding ceremony. Diana would settle comfortably into Washington society. Not so her temperamental husband, who hardly ever hesitated in making his displeasure recognized to his household and the Military.

In 1844, Kearny returned to the frontier and Fort Leavenworth, whereas his spouse moved with their two kids to his property in New York. Kearny shortly turned disenchanted out West and, anxious to restore his marriage, returned in October 1845 to resign from the Military. Diana now hoped for happiness and an attentive husband. Occasions in Texas would deny her each.

When a taking pictures conflict broke out alongside the Mexican border in April 1846, Kearny couldn’t resist the lure of motion. He rushed to Washington to reinstate his fee. “I imagine that it issues to not Phil whether or not I’m in New York, return to Paducah, or stay among the many Hottentots,” Diana wrote to her sister. “He cares just for the Military and to take part within the conflict.”

Kearny did greater than take part. Assigned to boost a troop of cavalry for his outdated regiment, the first Dragoons, Kearny recruited the best males and acquired the best horses. However as soon as once more he obtained a employees task underneath Scott, this time in Mexico. “Honors will not be received at headquarters,” he complained. “I might give my arm for a brevet.”


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Just some weeks later, he obtained his want. On August 20, 1847, after marching from Veracruz, Scott’s military arrived on the village of Churubusco, a suburb of Mexico Metropolis. Lastly allowed to struggle, Kearny led about 100 cavalrymen throughout a causeway to a gate to the town. Outnumbered, they nonetheless charged into the Mexican forces. Ignoring a name to retreat, Kearny, swinging his sword “chasseur fashion,” fought on with a few of his males. About to be overwhelmed, Kearny ran again over the causeway and mounted one other horse, able to cost once more. Then a chunk of grapeshot tore into his left arm.

Though the wound price Kearny the arm, he was promoted to brevet main and returned to america a bona fide hero with a popularity for reckless braveness underneath fireplace.

Reunited with the household in December 1847, nevertheless, Kearny once more chafed underneath the constraints of a rising household and peacetime Military routine. In August 1849, Diana—as conceited and prideful as her well-known husband—left New York for her household’s Kentucky residence. Ostensibly, she had accomplished so to provide beginning to their fifth baby in her hometown, however the relationship evidently was past restore.

She by no means lived together with her husband once more, but didn’t divorce him both. Her recalcitrance didn’t appear to hassle Kearny, however serving within the Military with little likelihood for promotion injured his satisfaction. In October 1851, he resigned his fee and launched into a world tour. Whereas in Paris, greater than the town caught his fancy. He fell passionately in love with Agnes Maxwell, a socially outstanding New Yorker—18 years his junior and already engaged to be married.

Their liaison created a sensation again residence, so Kearny returned to New York in February 1854 to break up. Diana refused. When Kearny suffered a close to deadly using accident, Agnes appeared to nurse her lover again to well being. To keep away from prying, disapproving New York society, they lived at Kearny’s baronial property in New Jersey, “Bellegrove.” However when Agnes turned pregnant in 1855, they once more decamped for Paris the place the extra tolerant Second Empire society welcomed them and their new daughter, Susan. After they returned to New York in 1857, Kearny once more demand a divorce from Diana.

Totally conscious of her husband’s adulterous life, Diana agreed—however solely after Kearny threatened a custody battle over their son. He married Agnes in April 1858 and so they returned to Paris, anticipating to stay the life of rich ex-patriots. Gathering conflict clouds at residence inevitably modified their plans. When Kearny realized of the April 1861 firing on Fort Sumter, he exclaimed, “My God! They’ve all gone mad.”

Kearny loathed slavery and abolitionists in nearly equal measure, however his devotion to the Union was unequivocal and the lure of motion was too robust to withstand. The couple closed up their Paris residence, anticipating to return again after Kearny fought in his fifth conflict. Neither of them ever returned.


Kearny provided his companies to his residence state of New York however was refused a fee, most likely due to his scandalous private life. His “adopted” state, New Jersey, shortly stepped in and appointed him brigadier basic of its first brigade of volunteers. He took command at Alexandria, Va., on August 4, 1861, and promptly moved the regiments to a greater bivouac on the grounds of the Fairfax Seminary. From his headquarters in a chic mansion, lodging he paid for from his personal pocket, Kearny enthusiastically started to show clerks and farmers into troopers.

Historian Bruce Catton has described Kearny as “all flame and shade and ardor with a slim, twisted streak of genius in him.” The conflict would convey out all these traits and plenty of extra. Along with private braveness, Kearny was a pure chief of males. He had a extremely customized command fashion and instinctively understood the significance of unit cohesion. Non-public Charles Hopkins of the first New Jersey Infantry remembered “his instructions have been religiously attended to as to meals, clothes, correct medical support, and finest of kit potential.”

In a single occasion, when Kearny realized that his troops have been being fed spoiled rations, he confronted the quartermaster and raged: “You gave my males rotten pork and it was your house to see that it was good. Off with it, I say, and convey good meat or I’ll put you in right here underneath guard, until you eat the entire six barrels of the damned stuff your self…” The boys obtained good pork and “One-Armed Phil” turned a hero to his males.

After the Union defeat at First Bull Run, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan stored the Military of the Potomac drilling endlessly in its Northern Virginia camps. However Kearny, stressed for motion, despatched his troops out to probe for the enemy. Encounters with Accomplice pickets typically produced casualties, and when Lieutenant Harry B. Hinden of the first New York Cavalry was killed on March 9, 1862, Kearny despatched a heartfelt letter of condolence to his mom. “With no matter fortitude it’s possible you’ll alleviate your sorrow,” he wrote, “for you as a mom there may be no diminishing by his public glory, the anguish of a mum or dad.”

Kearny understood a mum or dad’s anguish firsthand. His youngest son, Archie, had died of typhoid fever the month earlier than.

McClellan lastly moved his military to the Virginia Peninsula in April 1862 for his long-delayed drive on the Accomplice capital of Richmond. Throughout the Peninsula Marketing campaign, Kearny wrote a collection of exceptional letters to his spouse and legal professional—filled with reward for himself and his males and replete with low opinions of many subordinate officers and virulently vital his military commander. Most of the letters, in truth, sound remarkably much like the vainglorious epistles McClellan wrote to his spouse all through his army profession.

The Could 5, 1862, Battle of Williamsburg was typical. It revealed Kearny to be a brave combating officer and a petty, jealous man. Now a division commander, he was ordered to help the troops of Brig. Gen. Joseph Hooker, who have been nearly out of ammunition and in peril of being routed. After an arduous march by means of heavy mud, Kearny deployed his troops, directed their fireplace, and undoubtedly saved the Union flank from being turned.

Kearny was initially buried at Trinity Church in his native New York. Fifty years later, in 1911, his stays have been reinterred at Arlington — above — within the jap a part of the Officers’ Part (Part 2). (Library of Congress)

His official report lavished reward on his officers and employees, from the brigade commanders “whose soldierly judgment was solely equaled by their distinguished braveness,” all the way down to his volunteer aide, who “bore himself handsomely on this his first motion.” Kearny even issued a supplemental report as a result of he had didn’t report “the distinguished acts of people not serving in my presence…who so ably sustained my efforts by their gallantry.”

However on Could 15, Kearny vented his spleen in a letter to his lawyer, Courtland Parker, that resounded with insubordination. “Normal McClellan is the primary Commander in historical past, who has both dared, or been so unprincipled as to disregard these underneath him,” he wrote, “who not solely have fought an excellent struggle, however even saved his military, himself, and his popularity.” He declared that McClellan “fears to confess the companies of my Division, lest he, thereby, condemns himself for a need of Generalship, which gave rise to the damaging disaster.”

Kearny’s division fought tenaciously all through the Peninsula Marketing campaign. His battlefield choices have been sound and his private braveness unquestioned. To the Rebels, he turned often called “The One-Armed Satan.” In his report of the Could 31-June 1 Battle of Seven Pines (Honest Oaks), he proudly reminded McClellan that his troops “have once more, inside a really quick interval, paid the penalty of daring and success, by the marked and extreme lack of close to one thousand, 300 males.”


Privately, Kearny continued to rail towards his commander, partly as a result of he believed McClellan slighted his exploits in official reviews to Washington. A June 7 letter to his spouse reeked of jealously verging on paranoia. “This can be a unusual military,” he wrote, “our battles come haphazard, and after each battle, it appears, as all of us went to sleep, fearful, and silly mismanagement on the a part of McClellan, who’s timid, unaware of the character of troopers, and completely incapable….In his final report, he with Crafty introduces me Lukewarmly in his Report, for on the late Battle, I used to be once more despatched for from a distance to show the tide of battle.”

After the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, McClellan pulled his military again to Harrison’s Touchdown. Kearny discovered McClellan’s actions reprehensible. “I worry McClellan’s treason and mismanagement has thrown us in an amazing many fearful battles of a lot severity which he may have spared us,” he wrote to his spouse on July 12. “However all of which he invited by his personal unhealthy administration.”

All through the marketing campaign, the tone of Kearny’s letters swung wildly from petulant criticism to real tenderness and concern. “You should be sure to go and see your faculty pal,” he wrote his spouse from Harrison’s Touchdown. “I hope that you’ll make your self as homosexual as you possibly can, or else you’ll have a fearful onerous time.” Kearny repeatedly reassured his spouse to not fear about him and that he was protected and comfy. “You should look as soon as inside my tent,” he wrote, “and see my French camp bedstead, my wealthy furs; my braided cloak and shining velvet carpets; and a pleasant bottle of port at my facet…”

Moreover being an skilled battlefield tactician, Kearny fancied himself a grasp of political coverage, too. Claiming to grasp the Southern mentality, he declared it time to disclaim the Rebels the usage of slaves as a army useful resource. In a rambling letter to Parker, he opined: “Because the blacks are a rural army pressure of the South, so ought to they indiscriminately be obtained, if not seized and despatched off…I might use them to spare our whites wanted with their colors—Wanted to drill.” He additionally got here to imagine that McClellan‘s failure earlier than Richmond meant “this conflict is now not certainly one of gentle measures…Peace with the rebels on their very own phrases would solely imply time to recommence.”

After practically two months at Harrison’s Touchdown, Kearny’s division returned to Alexandria. From there, it joined Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Military of Virginia simply in time for a second decisive battle on the plains of Manassas. On August 29, Pope discovered Stonewall Jackson’s Corps lined up behind an unfinished railroad reduce above the Warrenton Turnpike, a place nearly as good as a fort, and ordered an ill-advised assault.

Positioned on the far proper of the Union line, Kearny’s division joined the fray late within the day and, within the battle’s most profitable Union motion, stormed out of a wooden and nearly turned the Accomplice left flank. However with out reinforcements, his decimated troops fell again. Watching the retreat of the third Michigan, Kearny wept because the regiment glided by, crying, “Oh what has change into of my gallant outdated Third.” The following day, contemporary Accomplice troops underneath James Longstreet crashed into the Federal left and despatched Pope’s regiments fleeing over Bull Run’s stone bridge towards the defenses of Washington.

Late that night time, whereas his troops coated the Union retreat, Kearny sat down to write down his after-action report. A younger aide tried to regular the writing pad, however it quivered. When Kearny regarded up, the younger man confessed that the day’s occasions frightened him. Kearny gave him a sober, fatherly stare and mentioned, “It’s essential to by no means be afraid of something.”

The bombastic basic’s ire had not abated when he wrote to Agnes: “It’s tiresome to have one’s victory ignored…and to be ignored, although combating onerous and unsuccessfully; and exposing myself, as my nature sadly is, in different folks’s defeats.”

When the defeated Pope realized that Jackson’s wing was on the transfer, looping round his flank to attempt to reduce off his line of retreat, he ordered Kearny’s and Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens’ divisions out of their muddy camps to intercept the Accomplice column. They discovered Jackson on Little River Turnpike close to a mansion known as Chantilly. Within the rain-lashed confusion, the 2 forces fought ferociously. Studying of a potential break within the Union traces, Kearny ventured forth, as he at all times had, to see for himself.

Through the years, there have been many variations of the occasions surrounding Phil Kearny’s dying. By the sunshine of a lantern, in accordance with one, Accomplice Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill acknowledged the physique after it was laid out on the porch of Jackson’s headquarters. Hill purportedly mentioned, “You’ve killed Phil Kearny, he deserved a greater destiny than to die within the mud.”

Kearny might need disagreed. If judged by his motto “Dulce et decorum est professional patria mori” (“It’s a candy and becoming factor to die for one’s nation”), Kearny seemingly died a contented man.

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