Judson Kilpatrick

Judson Kilpatrick

Esteemed member TDSwantko@fabriclink.com (Tom Swantko) contributes:

What's the background on Judson Kilpatrick ?

I did a little work on dear General Kilpatrick. Here it is:

General William Sherman had a gift for the brutally apt pronouncement. Summing up Judson Kilpatrick in 1864, he said "I know that Kilpatrick is a hell of a damned fool, but I want just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition." On June 28, three days before the battle of Gettysburg, Cavalry Corps commander Alfred Pleasonton must have been thinking the same thing when he chose the man to lead his newly acquired Third Division.

Physically, Kilpatrick must have been the least heroic-looking of any general in the army. Only twenty- seven years old, he was "A wiry, restless, undersized man with black eyes [and] a lantern jaw," as a fellow officer described him. He sported huge, stringy sand-colored sideburns, had bandy legs that gave him a rolling gait, and spoke in a shrill voice. He was constantly attempting to advance himself by aggressiveness and bluster. The combined effect was comical; a member of Meade's staff wrote in his diary that it was hard to look at Kilpatrick without laughing.

Yet Kilpatrick was not easy to overlook, either. He was relentlessly ambitious. He predicted a major generalcy for himself, and believed that if he survived the war he would become the governor of his native state, New Jersey, and then President of the United States.

The Civil War began even before Kilpatrick graduated from West Point. There, he had already been noticed as fighting cock. Ardently pro-Union and anti-slavery, he engaged in a slew of fistfights with Southern cadets. Graduating 17th in a class of 45 in May of 1861, he was hurried into service as captain of the 5th New York volunteer regiment, also called Duryea's Zouaves. One month later, in the first infantry engagement of the war at Big Bethel, he succeeded in becoming the first regular army officer to be wounded in the War. While recuperating he landed himself an commission in the cavalry; he joined the 2nd New York cavalry as second lieutenant the following September. The next year, while the war was largely inactive in the East, he served as a staff officer and took part in cavalry skirmishing in Northern Virginia. When the Second Bull Run campaign began in earnest in August of 1862, however, Kilpatrick seized on his opportunities for self-promotion. He made a successful raid on a Confederate railroad early in the campaign; during the battle itself, he ordered a cavalry charge in the darkness at the end of the first day's fighting which succeeded only in annihilating a squadron under his command. The fireworks produced by the charge were picturesque, however, and Kilpatrick drew the attention he wanted as a hell-for-leather fighter.

Kilpatrick's tireless self-promotion won for him the leadership of a brigade when Hooker created the Cavalry Corps in the spring of 1863. In the following Chancellorsville campaign, Kilpatrick led the most successful of the "bursting shell" of raiding parties that cavalry chief Stoneman sent into the Confederate rear. Although the expedition as a whole failed in its goal of throwing Lee into a retreat toward Richmond, Kilpatrick succeeded in a flashy series of wagon captures and bridge burnings, riding completely around the Rebel army. This was heady stuff for an Union army which had been embarrassed earlier in the year by similar exploits by enemy horsemen under Jeb Stuart.

At Brandy Station on June 9, Kilpatrick made a typically vigorous if not highly successful showing. Later that month, he performed erratically but aggressively at Aldie and Upperville. On June 28, new cavalry commander Alfred Pleasonton was looking for a fighter to lead the new cavalry division he had wrested away from its Hungarian former commander, Julius Stahel, and he chose Kilpatrick. At this moment of triumph for the new division commander, there were a whole raft of misgivings and unanswered questions about him. First was his insensitivity to his men and mounts; he had shown a tendency to take off on wild goose chases without a thought to the waste of horseflesh such adventures involved, and to order reckless charges which slaughtered his troopers, as at Second Bull Run -- these traits would earn Kilpatrick the nickname "Kill Cavalry" among the men. His tactical repertoire had lately hardened into an unswerving determination to attack on horseback regardless of the circumstances. His command fought well and paraded well, but clothing and equipment was frequently neglected, carbines were dirty, and the horses showed poor grooming. There were questions about his honesty: He had lain in jail for weeks in 1862 under suspicion that he had sold confiscated Confederate livestock and provisions for personal gain. He had been jailed again for defaming government officials while on a drunken spree in Washington. He had even been implicated in a graft scheme whereby certain horse brokers paid him off in order to get contracts to sell horses to his brigade. As if all this weren't enough, he was a known devotee of prostitutes, though he was married and his wife was with child. He drank hard liquor while at the same time professing temperance. His official reports of battle were notoriously fictionalized, with exaggerated accounts of heroic behavior and enemy casualties. One officer remarked disgustedly that Kilpatrick's campaign reports were "great in 'the most glorious charges ever made,' 'sabering right and left,' and such stuff." Another observer called him a "frothy braggart, without brains," while a third saw him as an "injudicious boy, much given to blowing and who will surely come to grief."

Many others had made similiar predictions since 1861. And yet against all this, Kilpatrick showed a fearlessness and a positive love of fighting that the Army of the Potomac was badly in need of among its officers. He showed "a great impatience and eagerness for orders," a trait which endeared him to superiors. It was because he was such a fighter that at Gettysburg his star was still ascending.

Hope this helps,

Larry Tagg

Esteemed member Susan and Eric Wittenberg

A wonderful question, this. And one I have asked myself numerous times.

Kilpatrick was a West Pointer. Ever vigilant for opportunities for self-promotion, he joined the 5th NY Infantry (DUryea's Zouaves) and was the first Regular officer wounded in action. Recovering, he joined the 2nd NY Cavalry. He became its colonel in late '62, and was a brigade commander by Brandy Station, where he did well. He only got divisional command about two weeks before Gettysburg. He was marginally competent, IMHO. Cump Sherman was right about one thing...he once said of Kilpatrick that "He's a hell of a damned fool".

I can go on for hours about Farnsworth's charge, and will at Muster. Suffice it to say that it was a foolish order. It never should have been given, and nobody knew that better than Elon J. Farnsworth.

No investigation was done that I have uncovered, and I have finished the research for my book. Perhaps it was because G-burg was a Union victory, and it was hard to take someone to task when he is on the winning side. More likely, it's because Kilpatrick was a particular favorite of Pleasonton's, and Pleasonton probably did a fine job of shielding his young favorite.

Esteemed member Laurie Chambliss

Ran across a nice quote about this unfortunate incident in the "4th Alabama" book. R.T. Cole (adjutant of the 4th) writes:

"All during the night of the second, the 4th had several scouts out...one advanced sufficiently close to overhear loud talking between the two Union cavalry Generals, Kilpatrick and Farnsworth. The former was in command of a division occupying the front of our right flank, which was defended by a thin line of our infantry skirmishers.... It appears from what our scout caught of the heated conversation that Kilpatrick had ordered Farnsworth, a brave and ambitions young brigade officer, but recently promoted, to charge over our picket line and turn our right flank. Farnsworth earnestly protested against such a fools errand, whereupon Kilpatrick angrily remarked, "Then, by God, if you are afraid to go I will lead the charge myself." Farnsworth then without further protest determined to make the effort. This was immediately reported to General Law, and preparations made during the 3rd to meet it."

Let's see: Orders a suicidal charge; yells about it loud enough for half the valley to hear it; doesn't take into consideration that anybody might have sneaked past his pickets; then , when persuasion fails, uses humiliation instead. Heck of a command style, indeed...


Esteemed member RDWinthrop@mail.arrownet.com (R D Winthrop) contributes:


Reposted H-Net review follows

Copyright (c) 1997 by H-Net, all rights reserved.

This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact Samuel J. Martin

Madison & Teaneck, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

325 pp. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, and index. $48.50 ISBN 0-8386-3665-9.

Reviewed by: Gregory J. W. Urwin < gregu@cc1.uca.edu

Department of History; University of Central Arkansas

The life of Union cavalry general Hugh Judson Kilpatrick reads like something dreamed up by a hack novelist. Kilpatrick fit the very definition of a stage villain. Driven by an ambition that outstripped his modest abilities, he let nothing stand in the way of getting what he wanted. He would flatter any superior, mislead any reporter, betray any friend or patron, tell any lie, and slaughter innumerable subordinates to gain favorable notice and promotion. His sexual appetite was as insatiable as his thirst for power. Twice married, he went through mistresses and prostitutes like they were junk food and made no effort to conceal his affairs.

Kilpatrick was even jailed for several months in late 1862 for soliciting bribes and illegally selling confiscated property. Yet, despite all these flaws, Kilpatrick rose to command a cavalry division in the Army of the Potomac in 1863 and later filled the same role in Sherman's campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas. He may have been a bounder, but he was also a remarkable man.

Born in New Jersey in 1836, Kilpatrick entered the United States Military Academy in 1856, graduating as class valedictorian in May 1861, just weeks after the outbreak of the Civil War. Instead of settling for a second lieutenant's slot in a regular artillery battery, Kilpatrick put his career on the fast track by securing a captaincy in a glamorous volunteer regiment, the 5th New York Infantry (better known as "Duryee's Zouaves"). To his friend, he predicted that if he survived the conflict, he would convert the brilliant military reputation he intended to earn into political capital and get himself elected governor of New Jersey and then president of the United States.

When a shell fragment struck Kilpatrick in the left buttock in a skirmish at Big Bethel on June 10, 1861, northern newspapers hailed him as the first Union officer wounded in action. The restless West Pointer traded on his notoriety to wrangle an appointment as lieutenant colonel in the 2nd New York Cavalry. With that breakthrough, Kilpatrick's star rose rapidly. In early 1863 he took command of his own brigade in the Army of the Potomac's newly organized and increasingly potent Cavalry Corps. By June 14, 1863, he was a brigadier general. Two weeks later, he received control of his corps's 3rd Cavalry Division. He led that unit through the Gettysburg campaign as well as the indecisive fall skirmishing that occurred as the Army of the Potomac cautiously followed Robert E. Lee's battered legions back into northern Virginia.

Kilpatrick cut a conspicuous figure in some of the largest cavalry fights in the eastern theater, but his record was checkered with both successes and failures. As a tactician, Kilpatrick embodied utter recklessness, and he sent so many of his own men to their doom that the survivors called him "Kill-Cavalry." He was soon eclipsed by his youngest brigade commander, George Armstrong Custer -- an officer whose daredevil courage and sounder tactical instincts made him the darling of the Cavalry Corps and a favorite of Major General George Gordon Meade. Desperate for attention, Kilpatrick went over his superiors' heads to enlist President Abraham Lincoln's support for an ill-conceived and ill-executed raid to rescue Union prisoners confined at Richmond, Virginia.

The failure of Kilpatrick's Richmond raid made its originator _persona non grata_ in the Army of the Potomac, so he transferred to the western theater to lead a cavalry division in Major General William T. Sherman's drive on Atlanta. A wound at Resaca sidelined Kilpatrick for a while, but he returned in time to serve as Sherman's chief of cavalry on the "March to the Sea." Kilpatrick delighted in destroying southern property, but his preoocupation with sex was almost his undoing. Twice Confederate cavalry managed to surprise his camp while he was in bed with prostitutes, and he was forced to flee for his life in something less than full uniform.

With the war's end, Kilpatrick found himself a brevet major general in both the regular and volunteer service, but he was not a big enough hero to win political office -- even though he repeatedly changed his political allegiance whenever he felt the prevailing wind change. In the end, he settled for two non-concurrent appointments as ambassador to Chile, where he died of Bright's disease on December 2, 1881. In forty-six years, he involved himself in more trouble, adventure, and controversy than most men twice his age.

Samuel J. Martin's _"Kill-Cavalry"_ is the first full-length biography of Kilpatrick to see print. Martin is a freelance writer who has published several articles in popular magazines. He calls his book the "biography of an antihero" whose "exploits were more often contemptible than commendable" (p. 12). In Kilpatrick's case, that is not hard to prove, but Martin should have set his sights higher. In addition to being such a colorful character, Kilpatrick led a life that could serve as a useful prism for analyzing the rise of the Union cavalry, intrigue among high-ranking officers in the Union army, and American politics and diplomacy during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Unfortunately, _"Kill-Cavalry"_ never rises above a pedestrian level and fails to develop these broader themes. It also fails to do justice to Kilpatrick himself.

The main fault with this book lies in Martin's lack of thorough research. He relies too much on printed sources, many of them secondary works more popular than scholarly. True, Kilpatrick's personal papers were destroyed, but many of his superiors, peers, subordinates, and Confederate foes left letters and diaries that are housed at repositories across the nation. Martin's bibliography contains many glaring omissions, such as the published letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman of General Meade's staff, the various autobiographical books of Willard W. Glazier (a Union cavalry officer captured as a result of Kilpatrick's folly), Henry C. Meyer's _Civil War Experiences under Bayard, Gregg, Kilpatrick, Custer_, and John Edward Pierce's excellent 1983 doctoral dissertation, "General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick in the American Civil War: A New Appraisal." Martin demonstrates his unfamiliarity with the literature still further by listing secondary sources as primary works and vice versa. Poor homework led him into marring his book with several needless factual errors and questionable judgments.

In Martin's view, Kilpatrick was not only a braggart, a libertine, a profiteer, and an opportunist, but also a coward who avoided exposing himself in battle. This interpretation clashes with recent specialized studies by Edward G. Longacre and the late Stephen Z. Starr, who held that Kilpatrick's physical courage matched his impetuosity. As Martin's scholarlship does not equal that of Longacre and Starr, their conclusions seem more credible and historians should concede Kilpatrick at least that one redeeming virtue.

Copyright (c) 1997 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact [The book review editor for H-CivWar is Daniel E. Sutherland

Esteemed member DZouave5@aol.com contributes:

In a message dated 97-03-27 19:03:53 EST, you write:

<< When a shell fragment struck Kilpatrick in the left buttock in a skirmish at Big Bethel on June 10, 1861, northern newspapers hailed him as the first Union officer wounded in action.

Well, having researched the 5th NY for 18 years, I can safelt state he was not shot in the "left buttock" -- unless the shell fragment exited therefrom....He was hit in the front of the thigh....But in any case, Kilpatrick was perhaps unbalanced, reckless, a profligate -- but no one doubted his personal courage that I have seen. In fact he seems to have embodied all those "vices" -- in the way of superabundant, thoughtless actions -- that are usually (and I think to a degree unfairly) attributed to his rival, Custer. I have this recent biography, and I must say it is not of the best -- many, many stones were left unturned. Interestingly, it was G.K. Warren who got Kilpatrick his commission in the 5th NY -- Warren having been one of his instructors at West Point. At any rate, "Kil-Cavalry" awaits a much better study than this, IMHO.

Rega rding Kilpatrick, I would recommend the recent volume -- at over 600 pages quite a work -- "Sherman's Horsemen" by David Evans -- that traces Kilpatrick's career after he left the Eastern Theater of war. I was interested in this book, among other things, because Myles Keogh -- Buford's aide at Gettysburg -- wound up getting captured with General Stoneman in the failed Macon Raid.

In any case, Evans offers a good assessment of Kilpatrick:

"Aside from Rousseau, Judson Kilpatrick was the only one of Sherman's cavalry commanders who consistently projected the charisma and elan that makes tired men win desperate battles. He was also an arrogant, conceited, prevaricating braggart, but as a veteran sergeant of the 92nd Illinois explained, 'He is the _Prince of Raiders_. I would sooner go under him on a raid than any other man I know of.'"

Kill-Cavalry did have his admirers, for all his obvious, even loathsome faults. I think the Union mounted arm was desperate for aggressive leadership in the first half of the war, and that may account for Kilpatrick's advancement. Like so many other figures in Civil War studies, we need to look at his career in its entirety, and reading Evans' book I am struck by how many positive comments there are about Kilpatrick from the troopers in his command -- despite his erratic career and personal drawbacks.

Brian Pohanka

Esteemed member DZouave5@aol.com contributes:

After the War Kilpatrick left the Army and was appointed US Minister to the Republic of Chile. His second wife was a Chilean woman, and it was from that union that his great-grandaughter, the fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt is traced. Kilpatrick was as fiery and unpredictable in Chile as on the battlefields of the Civil War, and took sides, with Chile, in an escalating crisis that threatened war with Peru. Kilpatrick died in Santiago in 1881, and his remains were returned to the US for burial at West Point -- his grave is within a stone's throw of Custer, Buford, Cushing, Grimes Davis & other famous leaders. Kilpatrick even during the war suffered from kidney disease -- he sometimes had a hard time keeping in the saddle due to pain (according to his pension file & his Chief of Staff, Llewellyn Estes) -- his death came from Bright's Disease.

Brian Pohanka

Esteemed member DZouave5@aol.com contributes:

<< Esteemed member "Douglas E. Weirich" Hey Brian, thanks alot. Where did you find all of this?

Well, Ezra Warner's "Generals in Blue" is one of those "Bibles" of CW research, and I must admit I resorted to it, though some of it came out of the dusty files of my memory bank.Kilpatrick got his start as a Captain in the 5th NY -- the unit I re-enact and for going on 18 years have been researching and, slowly, writing a regimental history of. Kilpatrick graduated in the May 1861 Class at West Point, married Alice Shailer the day he graduated, and obtained a Captaincy in the 5th NY (Abram Duryee's Zouave Regiment) because G.K. Warren recommended him -- Warren having been one of Kilpatrick's instructors at the Academy. Kilpatrick seems to have been highly regarded in the 5th by the way -- the enlisted men liked him -- and perhaps it would have been better for many a Federal trooper, not to mention Elon Farnsworth, if Kilpatrick had remained in the infantry!

At the battle of Big Bethel, hailed as the first land engagement of the Civil War, a round of canister tore through the trees where Col. Duryee, Capt. Kilpatrick, and several others were pinned down. Duryee's epaulet was torn from his shoulder, Pvt. Cartwright was wounded, and Capt. Kilpatrick took a fragment through his thigh. When the surgeon tried to treat him, Kilpatrick knocked the instruments out of his hands, and with blood streaming down his leg proceded to lead a charge.....Later in the day Kilpatrick took a musket and shot dead the only soldier the Confederates lost in that little, but at the time significant fight....All this will be covered when I finally get the book done. But I have maintained an interest in that colorful, reprehensible and utterly fascinating figure as a result!

Best wishes, Brian Pohanka

Esteemed member Greg Mast Later in the day Kilpatrick took a musket and shot dead the only soldier the Confederates lost in that little, but at the time significant fight....All this will be covered when I finally get the book done. But I have maintained an interest in that colorful, reprehensible and utterly fascinating figure as a result!

That story sounds a little dubious to me, Brian, like the ones of at least five or six North Carolina vets, each of whom claimed to the very man who shot General Reynolds on July 1. John Thorpe of Henry L. Wyatt's company offered this testimony, the events described occurring near the end of Big Bethel: "When we got there [the redoutbt] I saw a Zouave regiment of the enemy in line of battle about three hundred yards away. Our boys popped away at them, but the the fire was not returned. Then, in good order, they marched away down the New Market road. Probably the order to retreat had been given the whole Federal army. A few minutes later Colonel [Daniel Harvey] Hill, passing from our right through the company, said: 'Captain Bridgers, can't you have that house burned?' and immediately went on. Captain Bridgers asked if five of the company would volunteer to burn it, suggesting that one of the number should be an officer. Corporal George T. Williams said he would be the officers and four others said they would go. Matches and a hatchet were provided at once, and a minute later the little party scrambled over the breastworks in the following order: George T. Williams, Thomas Fallan, John H.Thorpe, Henry L. Wyatt and R. H. Bradley. A volley was fired at us as if by a company, not from the house, but from the road to our left. As we were well drilled in skirmishing, all of us instantly dropped to the ground, Wyatt mortally wounded. He never uttered a word or a groan, but lay limp on his back, his arms extended, one knee up and a clot of blood on his forehead as large as a man's fist. He was lying within four feet of me, and this is the way I saw him."

Perhaps Kilpatrick participated in that volley, but if he claimed to be the very man who shot Wyatt, it can only be an early manifestation of the self-aggrandizement and mendacity that characterized his rascally career.

John Thorpe went own to command Company A, 47th Regiment N.C. Troops, which he led at Gettysburg (desperately trying to stay on-topic here), and he surrendered at Appomattox. General William MacRae said of him: "Captain Thorpe will do as much fighting and talk as little of it as any officer in our army."

Perhaps we should rename the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads (already know popularly as "Kilpatrick's Shirttail Skeedaddle") as "Wyatt's Revenge."

Greg Mast

Esteemed member DZouave5@aol.com contributes:

In a message dated 97-03-08 10:28:16 EST, esteemed member Greg Mast wrote:

<< Nevertheless, Thorpe, who was there, described it as a volley. I remain extremely sceptical about any claims about who shot whom with a single musket firing. Note that Thorpe states that the entire squad kissed the dirt. I will grant that perhaps Kilpatrick reasonably thought he shot someone. Wyatt, incidentally, was not the only Confederate casualty at Big Bethel--just the only fatality. He was not instantly killed but died during the night.


Granted there is no definite way to know who shot whom....There was firing going on all along the line, and a jumbled group of men from several New York companies were aorund that building firing....So maybe Kilpatrick hit Wyatt and maybe not -- he did likely fire in his general direction. And no one that I can see went out to investigate, indeed the Federals soon pulled back. I know there were CSA casualties, Wyatt as you say was the only fatality on the Confederate side.

Brian Pohanka