Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Civil War Oddities #109

As a member of a wealthy New York family, Philip Kearny had nearly everything he wanted, except a military career. Forced by family pressure to become an attorney, he stuck to that vocation until his grandfather’s will made him a millionaire.

As soon as he got his hands on his fortune, Kearny went to France to study at the Samur cavalry school. From that installation he went to Africa as a cavalry leader and fought with such distinction that he won the French Legion of Honor. Back in the United States, he fought in the Mexican War before returning to Europe to take part in the Crimean War.

When the Civil War erupted, Kearney’s commission as a brigadier general of volunteers was backdated to May 17, 1861. Having led with distinction at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and during the Seven Days, he was made a major general.

Few men on either side had a combat record to match that of Kearny. Still, he managed to ride into Confederate instead of Union lines at Chantilly and realized his blunder too late to spur his mount to safety. A volley from Virginians in gray brought an end to his distinguished career, and his rider less horse was captured.

When Robert E. Lee learned what had taken place, he told aides that “a gesture of courtesy” was essential. When they nodded in agreement, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia dispatched Kearny’s horse and gear to the distraught widow of his opponent.

This sculpture is located in Arlington Cemetery near the Custis House, also known as the Arlington House / Robert E. Lee Memorial.

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