Hugh Judson Kilpatrick graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Given command of a brigade in the Army of the Potomac’s new cavalry corps in early 1863, he earned a reputation for aggression and courage in combat, as well as for ordering reckless and even dangerous attacks; his nickname among many fellow soldiers was “Kil-Cavalry.” After fighting in the Gettysburg Campaign (including the Battle of Brandy Station), Kilpatrick led a failed cavalry raid on Richmond in February-March 1864. He spent the remainder of the war serving under General William T. Sherman during the Atlanta campaign, the “March to the Sea” and the Carolina campaign. After the war, Kilpatrick was twice named ambassador to Chile and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress.
Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s Early Life and Military Career
Born in New Jersey, Kilpatrick developed early dreams of success, envisioning himself following up on military heroics with a career in politics: first as governor of New Jersey and eventually as president of the United States. In 1857, he gained admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Four years later, just as the Civil War broke out, Kilpatrick graduated 17th in a class of 45 and was made a second lieutenant of artillery in the U.S. Army.
Quickly promoted to captain in the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, Kilpatrick became the first Union Army officer to be wounded in the war, during the Battle of Big Bethel (or Bethel Church) in Virginia on June 10, 1861. That September, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 2nd New York Cavalry. He served in the Second Battle of Manassas in August 1862 and was promoted to colonel that December.
Hugh Judson Kilpatrick: Cavalry Leader
In February 1863, Kilpatrick was given command of a brigade in the Army of the Potomac’s newly established cavalry corps. That summer, as Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia planned its advance into Pennsylvania, Kilpatrick’s men took part in the Union cavalry’s surprise attack on Jeb Stuart’s rebel cavalry troops, which were at the time headquartered at Brandy Station in Culpeper County, Virginia.
The Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, the largest cavalry battle of the war, pitted 11,000 Union forces against 9,500 Confederates. After the initial surprise, Stuart’s men were able to rally and push back the Union troops by the end of the day. In mid-June, Kilpatrick was promoted to brigadier general; in this position, he commanded troops in the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in early July.
Kilpatrick’s Raid on Richmond
By early 1864, Kilpatrick had gained a reputation for bravery in battle. He was also known for ordering reckless, even dangerous cavalry charges and attacks; critics referred to him by the dubious nickname “Kil-Cavalry.” Given command of Army of the Potomac’s 3rd Cavalry Division, the ambitious Kilpatrick was seeking a promotion to major general. Over the objections of his superior officer, Major General Alfred Pleasonton (commander of the Union cavalry corps), he developed a plan to raid the Confederate capital of Richmond and rescue thousands of Union prisoners of war, as well as distribute copies of President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation offering amnesty to any Confederate citizens who wished to reaffirm their allegiance to the Union.
In mid-February, Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton called Kilpatrick to Washington and approved his plan, ordering the U.S. Army to send 4,000 troops on the raid. Kilpatrick reached Richmond on March 1, but lost contact with an advance contingent of troops commanded by Ulric Dalgren and was greatly outgunned by rebel defenders. The attack proved a dismal failure: Dalgren was killed, and Kilpatrick was subsequently transferred to the forces of General William T. Sherman in the war’s western theater.
Kilpatrick and Sherman
In May 1864, during the early days of Sherman’s Atlanta campaign, Kilpatrick was wounded in battle at Resaca. He recovered by July, in time to served under Sherman during the famous “March to the Sea” that fall and in the subsequent campaign through the Carolinas. In late April 1865, Kilpatrick accompanied Sherman to accept the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston at Durham; he was later promoted to the rank of major general.
After the war, Kilpatrick pursued his political ambitions, with mixed results. Named U.S. ambassador to Chile by President Andrew Johnson, he was recalled by President U.S. Grant in 1870. His second wife, Luisa Valdevieso, was the member of a prominent Chilean family; they married in 1866. Back in New Jersey, Kilpatrick worked as a farmer and lecturer and ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey in 1880. Newly elected President James Garfield returned Kilpatrick to the ambassador’s post in Chile in early 1881. That December, Kilpatrick died in Santiago at the age of 45.
Thelma and Gloria Morgan, the twin granddaughters of Kilpatrick and his second wife, Luisa Valdevieso, were prominent New York City socialites in the 1920s. Thelma’s high-profile paramours included the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII (who later abdicated his throne to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson), while Gloria married railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt. After his death, Gloria’s mother Laura Morgan joined the Vanderbilts in a lawsuit contesting Gloria’s guardianship of the couple’s daughter, known as “Little Gloria.”
Removed from her mother’s care in the notorious custody battle, “Little Gloria” Vanderbilt was raised by her paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She became a prominent sculptor and socialite and later entered the fashion industry, lending her famous name to a line of designer jeans and fragrances, among other products. She married four times and had four children, including the television journalist Anderson Cooper.