Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Death of Major General Philip Kearny (The Battle of Chantilly)

Major General Philip Kearny

Union Major General Philp Kearny lost an arm in the Mexican War and commanded French troops in the Italian War. Philip Kearny had the most combat experience of any General of either side at the start of the Civil War. Kearny took command of the First New Jersey Brigade, and trained it to be an efficient fighting force.  At the Battle of Williamsburg, Kearny led a charge against Confederate troops with a sword in his one hand, and the reins of his horse in his teeth.  He was beloved and respected by common soldiers.  In August, 1862, General Philip Kearny led his division at the Second Battle of Manassas, which saw the Union Army routed and nearly destroyed.  Kearny retreated toward Washington and fought the pursuing Confederates on September 1, 1862, at the Battle of Chantilly.

Responding to warnings about his safety, he said, “The Rebel bullet that can kill me has not yet been molded.” Encountering Confederate troops, Kearny refused a demand to surrender and was shot while trying to retreat. He died instantly. Confederate Maj. General A.P. Hill said, “…he deserved a better fate than to die in the mud.” Kearny’s body was sent to the Union line by Robert E. Lee under a flag of truce, and his death was mourned by officers on both sides. Kearny’s body was embalmed and sent north for burial.  Embalming methods advanced rapidly during the war.  Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers to return to their families. Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas.




Kearny was buried in New York. In 1912, his remains were exhumed and re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The re-interment drive was spearheaded by Charles F. Hopkins, who had served under Kearny. There is a statue in Kearny’s honor at Arlington National Cemetery, one of only two equestrian statues at Arlington.  The statue was dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson in November, 1914.  The statue was refurbished in 1996 by the non-profit New Jersey, General Philip Kearny Memorial Committee. 


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