Philip Kearny, one of the most promising generals in the Union army, is born in New York City. Raised in a wealthy family, Kearny attended Columbia University and became a lawyer.
Although his grandfather refused to allow him to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Kearny enrolled a year after his grandfather’s death in 1836. A superb horseman, Kearny served on the frontier before being sent to study at the French Cavalry School. After serving with the French in Algiers, he returned to the U.S. Army.
Kearny resigned from military duty in 1846 but quickly rescinded the request when war between the United States and Mexico erupted. Although he lost an arm at the Battle of Churubusco, Kearny earned a reputation as a brilliant and gallant cavalry officer.
In 1851, Kearny retired to his New Jersey estate but could not resist the temptations of military service. He joined Napoleon III’s Imperial Guard in 1859 and fought with the French in Italy. When the Civil War broke out, he returned to the United States and accepted a commission as brigadier general. Kearny served with the Army of the Potomac during the Seven Days’ Battles in 1862 and was promoted to major general in July 1862. Now in command of a division, Kearny was part of the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862.
On September 1, 1862, the 47-year-old Kearny was killed when he accidentally rode behind Confederate lines at Chantilly, Virginia. Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who had witnessed Kearny’s daring battlefield exploits in Mexico, returned his body under a flag of truce. Lee later bought Kearny’s saber, saddle, and horse from the Confederate Quartermaster Department, and returned them to Kearny’s wife.