|"General Kearney's Gallant Charge," loc.gov|
Kearny, born in 1815, distinguished himself during the Mexican War, particularly at Churubusco, just outside of Mexico City, in 1847. There, while leading his troops, he was wounded in the arm (the arm was amputated).
Kearny took command of a brigade at the beginning of the Civil War. He quickly became popular with his troops. He instituted the idea of unit insignia (it was later adopted throughout the Army of the Potomac), ordering all his officers to wear a red patch on their cap. The soldiers in his brigade adopted the practice as well. During the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Kearny was a fierce and vocal critic of George McClellan, the army commander, for not aggressively pushing toward the Confederate capital of Richmond. The publication of his attacks on McClellan earned him the ire of the army, but greater respect from his brigade. The unit bravely followed Kearny at the Battle of Williamsburg, where Kearny led his troops with his sword in his only hand and the reigns of his horse in his teeth. After the Peninsula Campaign, Kearny was promoted to major general.
He took part in the disastrous defeat at Bull Run on August 28-30. During the Union withdrawal toward Centerville, Virginia, Kearny engaged Confederates under Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart at Chantilly. On a rainy day, he rode along the Union line, finding a break. He ended up among Confederates, who demanded that Kearny surrender. Kearny tried to return to Union lines, but was shot and killed. Robert E. Lee returned the body to Union lines under a flag of truce, along with a condolence note. Kearny was buried in New York, and in 1912, reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery.
It is always important to remember the gallant men who fought in the Civil War--and the officers who inspired and led them. There were rumors that Kearny could have taken McClellan's job. Would an aggressive commander been able to bring the war to a quicker conclusion? Unfortunately for tens of thousands who gave their lives for the Union or Confederacy, that wouldn't be answered for over two more years.