On this day in 1865, General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick is promoted to major general in the Union Army. Kilpatrick served in both the Eastern and Western theaters of war and earned a reputation as a fearless and, many would say, reckless leader.
Kilpatrick was born in New Jersey in 1836. He attended West Point and graduated in 1861 alongside fellow cavalryman George Custer. He joined the 5th New York Infantry and became one of the first officers wounded in the war when he was shot at the Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia, in June 1861. By 1863, Kilpatrick was a brigadier general in the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry division. His aggressive battlefield tactics were often dangerous for his troops and earned him the nickname “Kilcavalry.” When the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,was winding down after Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, Kilpatrick ordered General Elon Farnsworth of his command to charge the Confederate’s right flank. Farnsworth informed Kilpatrick that the position was too strong, but Kilpatrick did not relent. Farnsworth was killed in the failed attack. In early 1864, Kilpatrick led a poorly conceived raid on Richmond, Virginia,that was also repulsed.
Despite these blemishes on his record, Kilpatrick was selected by General William T. Sherman to command a cavalry division during the Atlanta campaign in 1864. Sherman wanted an aggressive leader to harass the Confederates. Kilpatrick attacked the Confederate supply line at Lovejoy’s Station, Georgia, but did not succeed in cutting the railroad. He was wounded later at Dalton, Georgia, but returned in time to participate in Sherman’s March to the Sea and the campaign in the Carolinas in the winter and spring of 1864 and 1865.
After the war, Kilpatrick served as U.S. minister to Chile. He died in 1881 at age 45 and was buried at West Point.