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Philip Kearny  

Kearny's Corner

This page is dedicated to the memory of General Philip Kearny
and features stories and anecdotes about the heroic warrior.


Story 1:
Gustav Schurmann reminisces on his former general, Philip Kearny

The following passage was written by Gustav A. Schurmann, subject of the book The Little Bugler by William Styple. Schurmann served under General Kearny as an orderly and boy bugler during the Peninsular Campaign in the summer of 1862. In his adulthood, Schurmann wrote a bit about his war-time experiences. Looking back upon his days as a soldier with the 40th New York Mozart Regiment, Schurmann reminisces on personal incidences relating to his association with the general:

I will try and detail, in the smallest possible compass, as far back as I can recollect, my experience with General Kearny. In the first place, I will begin with my enlistment. In the early part of 1861, I was drumming recruits in Chatham Square, New York City, for the Forty-second Regiment Volunteers (Tammany), for a couple of months, when my father enlisted in the Fortieth N.Y. Volunteers (Mozart) at Yonkers. With the Forty-second not treating me well, I left them, not being mustered in, and tried to join the Fortieth. But its commander, Colonel Riley, would not take me on the account of my being too small and also too young, being only eleven years old. As soon as Colonel Riley said "no" I began to cry, and turned away from the tent, but my father went and spoke to him. Then he called me back and made me take a drum and a beat. All the men commenced to laugh because the drum was nearly as big as myself, but nevertheless the colonel said I would do.

I was with the regiment from the Battle of Williamsburg, our first fight, until we went to Harrison's Landing. Corporal Brown, a clerk at General Kearny's headquarters and also a member of our regiment, came to me one day stating that General Kearny ordered him to get him a drummer from our regiment to serve as an orderly for one day, as General McClellan was to review the army the next day. I reported myself the next morning early. The general received me kindly and gave me his gray horse (Baby), one that he brought from Mexico. During the review, the general had occasion to jump a very large ditch. I jumped it with him, but a great many of the officers had to cross further up. I think my jumping this ditch brought me favorably to his notice. Accordingly, when I reported myself in the evening after the review, so as to return to my regiment, he said, "No, but go and bring your baggage over to headquarters and consider yourself my orderly in the future."

From that day until his death I was always with the general. It was his habit to ride outside of the picket-guard every day at Harrison's Landing, only taking me with him. Many a time I would have to ride on top of the horse, lengthwise, so as not to knock my legs against the trees. He would go so fast through them, one time my hat was knocked off. As the general never stopped, by the time I was in the saddle again there was no general to be seen. But I gave "Baby" his own way and in less than five minutes he brought me up to him. I have known that same horse to kick at him as he went in the gate. The general would then "damn" me for not holding the horse tight, but for all that the general always treated me the same as my own father would have done, and no one mourned his untimely death more than I did.

- Gustav A. Schurmann

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Story 2:
How General Kearny met his cook, Carney, and what happened over a bottle of wine

Frank W. Gaul of the 4th NJ recalls a humorous episode with his former general:

General Philip Kearny was our ideal of a soldier. He contributed very largely from his private fortune to the comfort of the sick in hospitals and was untiring in his efforts to make us all comfortable.

I will give a few reminiscences that came under my immediate notice. The general would unexpectedly appear at our cooks' quarters just before "dinner call" and demand that the cooks give him a taste of whatever they might have to serve the boys for that day, and woe betide the cook that had his shack untidy or his grub not well cooked.

The following little incident actually occurred at the kitchen of Company I, Fourth Regiment, while we were living at Camp Seminary: Company I's cook was a comical old son of Erin, who happened to be named Carney, though possibly no relative of the general. Well, one day just before "dinner call" the general dropped in on Carney, very much to the surprise of the said Carney, but fortunately found things spic and span and the cook singing, and apparently quite contented with his lot. Happening to turn around, imagine his consternation, if you can, when he beheld his visitor, General Kearny. Well, our cook gathered himself together the best he could, assumed the position of a soldier with his sleeves rolled up and a big dipper in his hand. He saluted the general, who returned the salute and said,

"What have you for dinner, my man?"

"Vegetable soup, sor," answered our cook.

"Give me some," said the general, which the cook promptly did. The general tasted it and remarked: "That's pretty good, my man. What's your name?"

"Carney, sor," he said with a salute and broad Irish accent."

"Kearny, Kearny," repeated the general; "are you any relation to me, sir?" Well, our cook was entirely too much rattled to reply, but the general said, "When your dinner is served, report to my headquarters; I want to see you."

Well, the upshot of the whole matter was that Carney the cook came rolling into camp at around 5 p.m. gloriously jiggered and very hilarious indeed. Kearny the general had produced a bottle and given Carney the cook an invitation; and Carney the cook and the bottle did the rest.

But this little episode doesn't end here. When our friend Carney the cook started for camp, he unfortunately fell right in the path of Colonel Simpson. Seeing his condition, the colonel ordered the sentinel on guard at his headquarters to call the corporal of the guard with a file of men, and they promptly put Carney the cook in the guardhouse. That pretty nearly broke Carney's heart, so he told his story to the boys at the guardhouse and it finally reached General Kearny's headquarters.

The general went over to Colonel Simpson's tent and told the colonel how it all happened, then asked the colonel's pardon. He requested, as a personal favor, that when Carney the Cook got sober he might be released from arrest and that no charges should be preferred against him.

- Frank W. Gaul

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Story 3:
Phil Kearny's bouquet: How he acted when presented a handful of flowers

H.R. Allen remembers an episode with his former general:

In April, 1862, I was a brigade wagonmaster under Colonel C.G. Sawtelle, who had fitted out great numbers of teams at Perryville, Maryland. When we landed at Fortress Monroe, I—with my trains—was turned over to General Hamilton's Division, which General Phil Kearny commanded soon afterward. I was under that officer during the Peninsular Campaign when I was promoted by General Rufus Ingalls, chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac, and took charge of the depot of repairs as superintendent.

While with Kearny in front of Yorktown, I had one day been to Ship Point after some ambulances. On my return I came across a beautiful flower garden. I asked for some roses and, having been given permission by the lady of the house, made up a very handsome bouquet, scattering in it here and there a ripe strawberry, of which there were also plenty in the garden. A thought came into my mind that perhaps General Kearny would accept them, so I concluded to take them to him. I had been but a few days in his command and was naturally a little shy of him, for he was to me a cross-looking man. Besides, I then had an idea that the only purpose of a general was to see that people were killed regularly and not to admire flowers. However, I determined to venture, and when I reached camp took my bouquet and walked up between the rows of officers' tents to that of the General at the head of the avenue.

Before I had reached within fifty feet of it he saw me, and, divining my purpose, bounded out like a boy, coatless and hatless. He met me at almost a run, exclaiming: "You don't know what you have done," and, repeating his words several times, fairly dragged me into his tent where he thanked me many times over. He, with his own hand, put the flowers in water and invited me to a seat, in all respects treating me as if we were equals in rank. I then thought that he had the sweetest expression I had ever seen in a man's face, and from that day on—till General Kearny lost his life at Chantilly—he was ever my friend. Even when he was vexed at all around him, as he sometimes was, I received kind words and always a smile of recognition whenever and wherever we met. My bouquet had won heart of the great soldier.

- H.R. Allen

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Story 4:
A wounded Confederate colonel recollects "the knightly courtesies of a gallant enemy"

Colonel Bratton of the 6th South Carolina Regiment remembers the general for his courtesies and kindness. General Kearny wrote a letter to him which reveals his spirit of generosity:

Gen. Birney took sufficient interest to have his surgeon, Dr. Pancoast, examine my wound, and he discovered that I would not die before morning, as we all expected before his examination, and they both exhibited the kindest pleasure over the discovery. To say nothing of the innumerable attentions paid by officers and men of a large camp, near among them were some who had been captured by us, and escaped while going to the rear. I was the recipient of the most generous and courteous consideration from the knightly Gen. Phil. Kearny. On learning that my wound was not fatal, as at first reported to him, he took the trouble to send me a special messenger to the rear to see that I was properly cared for. All of these distinguished attentions and generous courtesies were extended to the colonel of the 6th South Carolina regiment. They did not even know my name.

When in the midst of raging battle, trophies were brought to me. (I remember three regimental standards were brought to me almost simultaneously.) I leaned them against a tree, saying, "Press on, boys, we have no time for these baubles now."

But these attentions to a wounded, helpless prisoner, who was only known by the prowess of his regiment in the fight, were the knightly courtesies of a gallant enemy, and were accepted as such with feelings of profoundest gratification and pride. They are indeed the noblest trophies of war, as they can be won only from a brave and worthy foe.

- Colonel Bratton

The following is the letter to the colonel by General Kearny:

Camp near Fair Oaks, Va., June 10, 1862

Col. Bratton, 6th S.C. Regiment

Dear Sir:

The fortunes of this unnatural war have made you a prisoner, and it was in the hands of one of my regiments (4th Maine, Col. Walker) that you fell. I take the liberty, in courtesy and good feeling, of putting myself, or friends of the North, at your disposal.

I will forward by a special messenger, your swords, belt and watch, together with a letter from the surgeon—Dr. Gesner—who attended you, who is an acquaintance of your family at the South.

If, sir, you will permit me the favor, I also place at your call a credit with my bankers, Riggs & Co., Washington, $200, which may serve you until your own arrangements are made. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

P. Kearny, Brig. General Commdg 3d Div 3rd Corps.

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Story 5:
Kearny's bravery, "indifference to death" cited by 5th Corps officer

General Kearny's bravery and notable "indifference to death" impresses an officer of the First Division, Fifth Corps during the Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862:

About noon, during the Battle of Malvern Hill, while the troops were lying on the ground for concealment and for protection from the enemy's artillery and sharpshooters, General Kearny appeared riding slowly along our lines, mounted on his light gray, almost white, horse. He stopped on the highest point of ground in front of the house used during the engagement as division headquarters, and gazed quietly on the scene. At length he saw me sitting with the other officers of the staff on the lawn, and calling me, he remarked that all was quiet on his end of the line, and he had come to see how things were managed in the Fifth Corps. He then proceeded to ask some gossiping questions about affairs in New York, oblivious, to all appearance, that he had become a target for the Rebel sharpshooters posted in the trees among the holly bushes on our front. I stood perfectly sheltered, the general's horse being between me and the enemy, curious to see how long he would stand the fire without flinching. He chatted on, giving no sign, either in look or manner, that he was aware of the danger until, remembering that a valuable life was in peril, I remarked, presuming on an old acquaintance, that, were I a superior officer, I should order him back to his command. The general laughed and rode away, not taking a sheltered road in the rear, running parallel with the front, but came along the crest of the hill, between the line of battle and the skirmish-line. Such needless exposure would have been regarded in most men as foolhardy; but no thought of applause or reputation probably for a moment entered General Kearny's head. He seemed to have learned one of the great lessons of life.

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Story 6:
Kearny exhibits sympathy, generosity, and compassion towards sick soldiers

General Kearny reveals his sympathetic, generous, and compassionate side towards his soldiers who were ill during the Peninsula Campaign in May 1862:

Lieutenant R. L—, aid to Major-General D. B—, relates an anecdote of Kearny to demonstrate his sympathy and generosity toward the sick of our army. L— was on board the Knickerbocker steamer prostrate with Chickahominy fever, and the vessel was filled with victims of the same terrible disease, due to the long inaction and severe labors of our army in that pestiferous region. He says that Kearny came on board to visit the sick and cheer them up by this evidence that they had the warm and active sympathy of their superior. Kearny went through that large boat—that floating lazar-house—with a kind word, a pleasant smile, a grasp of his single hand and some soothing or inspiriting remark for every one. Nor was his sympathy confined to words and smiles alone. Wherever he thought that money was needed he did not wait till it was asked. L— saw him put a twenty dollar gold piece into the hands of more than one, and thinks he must have bestowed several hundreds of dollars in this glorious exhibition of manly feeling on that occasion. Is there any record of McClellan's having done any thing like this?

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Special thanks to William B. Styple for use of these stories from his book Letters from the Peninsula: The Civil War Letters of General Philip Kearny (New Jersey: Belle Grove Publishing Company, 1988). Story 1: page 139, 2: 35, 3: 77-78, 4: 100, 5: 118-119, 6: 77. Image of General Kearny courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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