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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (K)
Kilpatrick, Major General Hugh Judson

General Kilpatrick was one of General Sherman’s most dynamic officers in the Union Cavalry during the Civil War. He was very active in Battle of Atlanta (Georgia), the subsequent March To The Sea, and back north again before the war ended at Appomattox. General Kilpatrick’s aggressiveness earned him the name “Kill Cavalry” from the way he threw his men at the enemy. H. J. Kilpatrick was born near Deckertown, NJ on January 14, 1836.

He had sandy red hair and a row of “perfect white teeth” when he graduated from West Point on May 6, 1861. On that same day he married Alice Nailery of New York. The war broke out two months before Kilpatrick was to graduate. His first fight was a month later at Big Bethel, VA where he was promptly wounded in the right leg by a piece of grapeshot. This was considered to be the first wound to be inflicted upon a regular Army officer in the first battle of the war. By the Battle of Gettysburg in early July 1863 he apparently had started earning the name “Kill Cavalry” or “Little Kil” from wearing down and, in many opinions, wasting his men and horses. In his book Sherman’s Horsemen, Dr. David Evans says he “…was unquestionably brave, but when truth interfered with ambition, he ran over it roughshod. He swore furiously and had a reputation as a rake.”

One story occurring on the 3rd day of battle at Gettysburg was that Kilpatrick “…goaded one of his subordinates. Brigadier General Elton J. Farnsworth, into a senseless charge that cost Farnsworth his life”, and then made “…shamelessly inflated claims about the number of prisoners, guns, and battle flags his division captured” when Kilpatrick and his men entered the field after the crux of the battle. Kilpatrick’s physical appearance seemed to invite many of the uncomplimentary things said about him. He was slightly hunchbacked and rode “…stooped and bent over the saddle.” When asked about it he said he had kidney trouble that hurt his back. Indeed he did have to lie down in an ambulance sometimes while supervising a battle. He had enormous red sideburns and was referred to as a dandy. Another officer once said “Kilpatrick is the most vain, conceited, egotistical little popinjay I ever saw.” Kilpatrick received the unfortunate news in November 1863 of his young wife’s death. Within two months his infant son also died. Soon after this, in February 1864, his own plan which he pushed through using political connections to free Federal POWs in Richmond failed. General Grant relieved him of his command and reassigned him to Chattanooga, TN to command the 3rd Cavalry Division of the Army of the Cumberland. Within three weeks of taking command his troops encountered the enemy south of Chattanooga in northern Georgia. Moments after ordering a charge and riding to the front, a bullet tore through his horse’s neck before entering Kilpatrick’s left thigh and passing through his hip.

This severe wound convalesced him back to New York for two months. He reentered the fighting against doctor’s orders near, by chance, Calhoun, GA (named for the previous Vice President who had gold mining speculations in North Georgia). Alighting from a train on crutches, he found his men guarding rail lines. Kilpatrick promised the “brave, noble men” that “within three days you shall be at the front winning glory for yourselves.” Still too disabled from his wounds to ride a horse, Kilpatrick traveled in a carriage made up for him by his men. Anticipating the battle for Atlanta, he ordered all personal effects transported to the rear. His officers and men were to carry only enough supplies to last them about four days. Kilpatrick’s unit entered the Atlanta area on the west side. At one point his headquarters was set up at the intersection of Powder Springs and Sandtown Roads, just minutes away from where the Clan Colquhoun Of NA’s newsletter is compiled. Gen. Sherman decided to use Kilpatrick’s force to try and break the railroad lines south of Atlanta to keep the Confederates from supplying their armies during the Atlanta battle. Known in history as “Kilpatrick’s Raid” (August 18-22, 1864), the force of 4,500 men circuited the city tearing up railroad tracks as they fought their way around west to east in the little towns below Atlanta. The Raid nearly destroyed Jonesboro by fire and looting. At Lovejoy the raiding party was surrounded by Confederate forces. Kilpatrick turned to Irish born, former British Army Ensign Colonel Robert Minty. Minty had the same aggressive combativeness Kilpatrick had and was a perfect choice for leading a cavalry charge. The charge broke a hole in the Confederate lines. The raiders were pursued for the next 24 hours. On August 21st, nearly out of ammunition, Kilpatrick’s men had the formidable task of crossing rain swollen Cotton Indian Creek. Normally 25 feet wide and 2 feet deep, the freshet had increased an enormous 3 times it’s normal size. Kilpatrick crossed it first and stood by waist deep in the torrent as his men went across. An ambulance overturned spilling its driver and three wounded men into the rushing water. Kilpatrick plunged in after them pulling the driver, Lt. William Mayer, ashore. Only one soldier of Kilpatrick’s command drowned, but about 50 mules and horses were lost including everything they carried. Materiel was intentionally destroyed on the west side of the torrent so as to not fall in the hands of the enemy. Burning bridges as they crossed the South River and its shoals, the raiding party eventually felt they alluded the Confederates. The men finally unsaddled their horses for the first time in four days in Lithonia on Atlanta’s east side. Kilpatrick then turned northwest back up into Buckhead to report back to Sherman. The rail lines that had been torn up were quickly repaired and in working order by the time Kilpatrick reached Buckhead. This made the raid basically a military failure as far as cutting supply lines to the city. Less obvious was the effect Kilpatrick’s Raid had in diverting the Confederate Army while Atlanta was attacked from the North. Kilpatrick had indirectly protected the Union Army from attack by screening their movements from the enemy advance from the South. A point of irony should be noted that on September 2nd Atlanta was surrendered by Mayor James M. Calhoun. No mention has been found that Kilpatrick acknowledged his Scottish link to the mayor or that they ever met.

Sherman had to goad some of his commanders into action, but he had to rein Kilpatrick in to keep him from acting too recklessly. During the March through Georgia, Sherman made his often quoted description of Kilpatrick being a “damned fool.” The complete quote, not always printed, is: “I know he’s a hell of a damned fool, but I want just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition.” The fact was that Kilpatrick could be relied upon to get things done, even if the results were not completely expected. Sherman accepted Kilpatrick with all his faults and used him for the best advantage possible which made Sherman an effective general.

If not completely endearing himself to his brother officers, Kilpatrick had no difficulty in attracting women. Only the driest of military histories omit references to Kilpatrick’s philandering after the death of his wife and child. His dandy appearance and bend towards theatrics-he’d been an amateur thespian before the war-infuriated most men but charmed certain women. >From the march to Savannah and back north through the Carolinas reports filtered in to Sherman’s staff of attacks on Kilpatrick’s camped cavalry while their commander was shacked up with local women. Sherman’s army left Savannah and headed north burning Columbia, SC mostly to the ground. At this time Kilpatrick took as his mistress the “most beautiful woman in South Carolina” Marie Boozer who went back north with the army in Kilpatrick’s company. In NC a surprise attack by Confederate General Wheeler, who had been following the Federals from Savannah, drove Kilpatrick from the house he and Marie were staying. He was clad only in his “nightshirt and drawers.” Narrowly avoiding escape, Kilpatrick took off on a horse. This event became known among the Union infantrymen as “Kilpatrick’s Shirt-tail Skedaddle.” The war ended for General Kilpatrick in Raleigh, NC as he learned of General Lee’s surrender. Difficult peace negotiations ensued with dominating personalities on both sides, Kilpatrick’s personality as usual one of the most difficult and dominating. After the war, predictable political aspirations of Governor, Senator, or even President only gained the General an ambassadorship to Chile where he died in 1881. As with many other celebrated warriors, the driving force in Kilpatrick that made him one of Sherman’s right hand men in war became a hindrance to him in peacetime.

Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was buried at the US Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point in New York. 

Georgia Historical Markers

There are 3 markers describing H.J. Kilpatrick after the Battle of Atlanta with his name in the title. He is mentioned in several more.

“Kilpatrick At Cork. On Nov. 17, 1864 Kilpatrick’s cavalry division, which was covering the right flank of Gen. Sherman’s army on its March to the Sea, moved from Bear Creek Station (Hampton), 30 mi. NW, down the north bank of Towaliga [Cherokee for “Roasted Scalp”] River to threaten  Griffin and Forsyth. This threat caused the Towaliga bridges to be burned by Wheeler’s cavalry [Confederate] to protect those towns and the large Confederate hospital centers there. On the 18th, Kilpatrick’s divisions reassembled here at Cork. Next day, it crossed Ocmulgee River at Planters’ Factory (4mi.E) and moved S. to cover the front and flanks of the infantry columns and feint at Macon.” [This marker is located at US 23 and Mt. Pleasant Church Road near Juliette, north of Macon, where the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed.]

“Kilpatrick On Bryan Neck. On Dec. 12, 1864, the 3rd Cavalry Division Brig. Gen. J. L. Kilpatrick, USA, covering the right rear of Gen. Sherman’s army which was then closing in on Savannah, crossed the Great Ogeechee River near Fort Argyle and the Canoochee River near Bryan Court House (Clyde) on pontoon bridges laid by the 1st Missouri Engineers and moved down Bryan Neck. That night, Kilpatrick made his headquarters at the plantation home of Lt. Col. Joseph L. McAllister, 7th Georgia Cavalry, which stood near the river immediately north of this site. On the 13th, Kilpatrick sent Murray’s brigade into Liberty County to scout the country to Sunbury. He ordered Atkins’ brigade and the 10th Wisconsin Battery to camp at “Cross Roads” (Richmond Hill) then, with two of Atkins’ regiments, he moved down Bryan Neck. Approaching Fort McAllister, he skirmished with the Confederate pickets, driving them back to the fort. After examining the approaches to the fort, he moved onto Kilkenny Bluff (8 miles SE) where he was able to make contact with the USS “Fernandina” and forwarded dispatches to the flag-ship reporting the arrival of Gen. Sherman’s army at Savannah. On the 14th, Kilpatrick moved with the balance of his command to Midway Church. After scouting the country and stripping it of livestock and provisions. He returned to Bryan County and went into camp at “Cross Roads” to picket the country to the south and west, and to protect the Union supply depot at King’s Bridge.” [This marker is located at GA Hwy 144 and 144 Spur, 5.4 miles E of US 17, south of Savannah].

“Kilpatrick And Mower At Midway Church. On Dec. 13, 1864, Murray’s brigade of Kilpatrick’s cavalry division, scouting the right rear of Gen. Sherman’s army, which was then closing in on Savannah, moved south into Liberty County. After driving back the 29th Georgia Cavalry Battalion, Lt. Col. Arthur Hood, which was patrolling Liberty County, Murray advanced to Midway Church. The 5th Kentucky Cavalry was sent to Sunbury to open communications with the Union blockading squadron in St. Catherine’s Sound. The 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry was sent to the Altamaha River to burn the Savannah and Gulf (ACL) Railroad bridge at Doctor Town. Both missions failed. On the 14th, Kilpatrick arrived with Atkins’ brigade and the 10th Wisconsin Battery. Establishing headquarters at Midway Church, he sent foraging parties east to Colonel’s Island, south below Riceboro, and went beyond the railroad to strip the country of livestock and provisions. On the 15th, with loaded wagons and herds of horses, mules, and cattle, he returned to Bryan County and went into camp at “Cross Roads” (Richmond Hill). On the 17th Mower’s division, 17th Corps, enroute to destroy the railroad form McIntosh to the Altamaha River, halted at Midway Church for the night. Next morning, Mower marched to McIntosh and began his destruction. Hazen’s division, 15th Corps, destroyed the railroad from the Ogeechee to McIntosh.” [This marker is located directly in front of the old church in Midway, GA].

Thanks to Tom Hodges for this information

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