American Civil War: Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick

Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Judson Kilpatrick - Early Life & Career:

Born January 14, 1836 in Wantage Township, NJ, Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was the son of Colonel Simon Kilpatrick and his wife Julia.  Raised on the family's farm, Kilpatrick received his basic education locally.  Seeking a career in the military, he succeeded in obtaining an appointment to West Point in 1856.  This occurred due to his connections to his local congressmen for whom Kilpatrick gave several campaign speeches.

  A decent student, Kilpatrick graduated ranked 17th of 45 in the Class of 1861.  With the attack on Fort Sumter and beginning of the Civil War in April 1861, Kilpatrick and his classmates petitioned the academy to allow them to graduate early.  This request was granted and the Class of 1861 graduated on May 6.  Later that day, Kilpatrick married Alice Nailer in the West Point chapel. 

Judson Kilpatrick - The Civil War Begins:

Though commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 1st US Artillery, Kilpatrick instead accepted a post as a captain in 5th New York Infantry (Duryée's Zouaves).  Ordered south to support Major General Benjamin Butler's command at Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula, the regiment first saw combat on June 10 at the Battle of Big Bethel.  In the course of the Union defeat, Kilpatrick was wounded in the leg by canister shot becoming the first Union officer to be hit in the war.

  Recovering, he helped raise the 2nd New York Cavalry and became its lieutenant colonel in late September.  That fall and winter, Kilpatrick and his men conducted patrols and skirmished with Confederate cavalry.

Judson Kilpatrick - A Rapid Rise:

In late summer 1862, Kilpatrick's regiment raided the Virginia Central Railroad as well as saw action at the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap.

  Attached to Major General Irvin McDowell's III Corps, the 2nd New York Cavalry took part in the Second Battle of Manassas.  As the fighting progressed on the first day, Kilpatrick ordered a rash charge which led to heavy casualties.  Despite this, he received a promotion to colonel and command of the regiment on December 6.  Known for his aggressive nature, Kilpatrick was disliked by many who dubbed him "Kill Cavalry" for his willingness to risk his men's lives in charges as well as the fact that his camps were poorly maintained and regularly frequented by prostitutes.  Additionally, he escaped charges of corruption in 1862 relating to the sale of captured goods for personal gain and later was accused of accepting bribes relating to buying horses for his men.  

Following the disastrous Fredericksburg Campaign, the newly-appointed leader of the Army of the Potomac, Major General Joseph Hooker restructured his command and created a Cavalry Corps led by Major General George Stoneman.  Within this force, Kilpatrick received command of a brigade in Brigadier General David Gregg's division.  With the beginning of the Chancellorsville Campaign in late April, Stoneman's corps was dispatched on a sweeping raid south with orders to disrupt the supply lines between General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond.

  Though this effort resulted in extensive damage to Confederate property, it failed to hamper Lee's operations and the Confederate commander inflicted a decisive defeat on Hooker. 

Judson Kilpatrick - Gettysburg Campaign:

In the wake of Chancellorsville, Major General Alfred Pleasonton, who had replaced Stoneman, attacked Major General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry at the Battle of Brandy Station.  In the course of the engagement, Kilpatrick's brigade fought a back and forth struggle for Fleetwood Hill.  Though the battle proved inconclusive, it greatly boosted the confidence of the Union cavalry.  Shortly after Brandy Station, on June 13, Kilpatrick was promoted to brigadier general.  With Confederate forces moving north to invade Pennsylvania, Kilpatrick and the rest of the Union cavalry moved in pursuit.

  After engaging enemy cavalry at Aldie, VA (June 17) and Upperville, VA (June 21), he fought Stuart at Hanover, PA on June 30. During this time, Kilpatrick received command of division consisting of the brigades of Brigadier Generals Elon J. Farnsworth and George A. Custer

Arriving around Gettysburg after the battle started, Kilpatrick skirmished with Brigadier General Wade Hampton near Hunterstown on July 2 before camping at Two Taverns that night.  During this time, Custer's brigade was detached to join Gregg east of Gettysburg.  The next day, following the defeat of Pickett's Charge, army commander Major General George G. Meade and Pleasonton directed Kilpatrick to make a charge against the right flank of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps at the south end of the battlefield.  Recognizing the futility of making a cavalry charge against infantry, Farnsworth loudly protested the order.  Responding, Kilpatrick questioned his subordinate's bravery and threatened to lead the charge himself.  Reluctantly complying, Farnsworth mounted the attack which resulted in his death and substantial casualties for his command.  After the battle, Kilpatrick's division harried Confederate forces as they retreated south.

Judson Kilpatrick - Dahlgren Affair:

After spending the fall and winter operating in northern Virginia, Kilpatrick received orders in late February 1864 to mount a raid south towards Richmond with the goal of rescuing Union prisoners at Libby Prison and Belle Isle.  Arriving outside the Confederate capital, he found that the defense were too strong.

  With Hampton's cavalry in pursuit and local militia offering resistance, Kilpatrick elected to move down the Peninsula to unite with Butler's Army of the James rather than directly return north.  In the course of this movement, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren's brigade became separated and heavily engaged.  During the fighting, Dahlgren was killed and his body taken by Confederate forces. 

Upon searching his remains, papers were found which stated the object of the expedition had been to burn Richmond as well as kill Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.  Published by Richmond newspapers, a massive controversy ensued which included communication between Meade and Lee regarding papers' authenticity.  When questioned by Meade, Kilpatrick stated that the orders were authentic but that the section regarding assassinations had been added by the Confederates.  Returning north by steamer, Kilpatrick's men clashed with African American troops in Alexandria, VA and were immediately returned to the front.  The fallout from the Dahlgren Affair coupled with the behavior of his men led to Kilpatrick being transferred west to assume command of a cavalry division in Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland.

Judson Kilpatrick - In the West:

Arriving at Chattanooga, Kilpatrick moved south in May as Major General William T. Sherman launched his campaign against Atlanta.  On May 13, he sustained a severe wound in the thigh during the Battle of Resaca.  Out of the field until late July, Kilpatrick returned to his command as fighting intensified outside of Atlanta.

  On August 18, he received orders to raid around the city and struck the Atlanta & West Point Railroad before attacking Jonesboro and Lovejoy's Station.  While destroying track and supplies at Lovejoy's Station, Kilpatrick came under attack from Major General Patrick Cleburne's infantry.  Fighting until evening, the Union cavalry then departed to escape encirclement.  With the fall of the city on September 2, Sherman began making plans to move against Savannah.

In November, Kilpatrick's division accompanied Sherman on the March to the Sea.  Moving southeast through Georgia, Kilpatrick cut a path of destruction and on several occasions engaged Major General Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry.  Reaching the coast, Union forces captured Savannah before moving north to continue their efforts in South Carolina.  Supporting Sherman's efforts during the Carolinas Campaign, Kilpatrick was surprised and nearly captured at Monroe's Crossroads, NC on March 10, 1865, but was able to rally his men.  As the war wound down the following month, Kilpatrick accompanied Sherman to surrender negotiations with General Joseph E. Johnston at Bennett Place.  Following the Confederate surrender on April 26, he received orders to command a cavalry division in the Military Division of the Mississippi.      

Judson Kilpatrick - Later Life:

Remaining command until June when he was promoted to major general, Kilpatrick was then appointed Minister to Chile by President Andrew Johnson.  In this role, he unsuccessfully attempted to arbitrate a peace during the Chincha Islands War in 1866.  While there, he married local socialite Luisa Fernandez de Valdivieso, as Alice had died in 1863.  In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant recalled Kilpatrick leading the former horseman to support Horace Greeley in the election of 1872.  Despite this, he remained active in Republican politics and in 1881 received a second appointment as Minister to Chile.  Shortly after his arrival, Kilpatrick died on December 4, 1881.  In 1887, his remains were returned to the United States and interred at West Point.    

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2016, Hickman, Kennedy. (2016, August 29). American Civil War: Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 18, 2017).