The Ox Hill/Chantilly Generals
Since the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ox Hill/Chantilly was just passed on September 1, 2012, I thought I would do an article on Generals Philip Kearny, Jr. and Isaac Ingalls Stevens who were killed at the Battle of Ox Hill/Chantilly on September 1, 1862. Ox Hill/Chantilly is the only battle during the Civil War which occurred in Fairfax County. This article is dedicated to our Bull Run Civil War Roundtable member Ed Wenzel, who along with Bud Hall, and the late historian Brian Pohanka, practically single-handedly saved what is left of the battlefield. I must say there were a few “Oh My God” moments researching the life of General Phil Kearny. To say he was an interesting subject is putting it mildly.
Philip Kearny was born into a very wealthy family in New York City on June 1, 1815, the son of Philip Kearny, Sr. and Susan Watts. John Watts, his mother’s father, was the last Royal Recorder of New York City. The position of Royal Recorder was begun in the year 1683. Duties included being Judge of the Court of General Sessions, Deputy Mayor, and Vice President of the Board of Alderman. Watts had interests in mills, factories, investment houses, ships, and banks. Philip Kearny, Sr. owned a brokerage firm and was also one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. Kearny’s mother died at a young age so young Phil was raised by his grandfather Watts who had a huge influence on his life and future.
A career in the military was Kearny’s dream but his grandfather had other ideas for him. Watts sent him to Columbia College to earn his law degree. Kearny graduated from Columbia in 1833. Three years later in 1836, his grandfather died leaving Phil an inheritance of over $1 million dollars. At that time he was one of the richest men in America. Since he was now a free man, Kearny chose to join the military and was assigned to the 1st U.S. Dragoons as a second lieutenant of cavalry. The adjutant of this unit was Jefferson Davis who later became the President of the Confederacy.
Kearny was sent to France to study cavalry tactics in 1839. Already an accomplished horseman from the age of eight, he learned to ride his horse with his sword in his right hand, his pistol in his left hand, and the reins in his mouth. The French nicknamed him Kearny le Magnifique (Kearny the Magnificent). After returning to the U.S., he wrote a cavalry manual for the Army. In 1849 his father died leaving him another large inheritance.
Kearny was assigned to the staff of General Winfield Scott and became his aide-de-camp. He complained that “honors are not won at headquarters, and I would give my arm for a brevet.” These are certainly words that would haunt him later. He resigned his commission in 1846 but within a month returned to the army when the Mexican-American War broke out. Due to his wealth he spared no expense outfitting his command of the 1st U.S. Dragoons, Company F. He bought 120 matched dapple gray horses for his men. Kearny became a captain in December, 1846. Company F fought in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco with Kearny leading a cavalry charge where he was wounded with grapeshot in his left arm. Future president Franklin Pierce (a general at the time) held him down as his arm was amputated. General Scott called him “a perfect soldier and the bravest man I ever knew.”
Kearny’s personal life was interesting as well. He married Diana Bullitt in 1841. He was sent to Washington, D.C. after requesting a field assignment in the west. Mrs. Kearny adored her role as a society hostess. He was so unhappy in Washington that he described himself as “a highly placed flunky.” Finally in 1844 he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth. Diana Kearny had no intention of leaving Washington for frontier life with two small children. Kearny went to Kansas alone. Kearny decided he had enough of army life and settled with the family in New York City. The marriage didn’t survive and Diana left after eight years of marriage, and she filed for divorce in New York. One of the stipulations Diana had entered in the divorce decree was that he could never marry again as long as she was alive. Kearny was 36 years old, very rich, and took off on a world tour. In Paris he met Agnes Maxwell and they began living together. Since Kearny’s attorneys interpreted the decree to only mean he could never re-marry in New York, he and Agnes married in New Jersey and lived there.
When the Civil War began Kearny tried to rejoin the army but since his life was so scandalous and he only had one arm, he was rejected. President Lincoln appointed him as a Brigadier General of Volunteers and placed him in command of the New Jersey brigade and he was sent to Alexandria, Virginia. Again using his wealth he made sure his men were well fed and clothed. He and General McClellan clashed as Kearny wanted McClellan to attack Richmond. He was appointed commander of the 3rd Division in 1862. He fought at Williamsburg, the Peninsula Campaign, 2nd Manassas, Groveton, and finally at Ox Hill/Chantilly where he rode into the Confederate line and was killed by a single bullet in his spine.
General Kearny’s body was released under a flag of truce at Difficult Run (near Rt. 66 and West Ox Road) and was brought back to Washington. He laid in state at Bellegrove, his home in New Jersey, before burial at Trinity Church in New York City. In 1912 his body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery. His grave is one of only two with equestrian statues in the cemetery.
The Kearny Patch (of scarlet cloth) evolved into the Union Army Corps identification insignia. The Kearny medal was created by his troops after his death and awarded to officers who served honorably under him. The Kearny Cross was awarded as a cross of valor to enlisted men in his old division. The town of Kearny, New Jersey was named in his honor.
Isaac Ingalls Stevens
Isaac Ingalls Stevens was born March 25, 1818 in North Andover, Massachusetts. He attended Phillips Academy, was appointed to West Point, and graduated with the class of 1839 at the top of his class. He served in the army with the Corps of Engineers during the Mexican war seeing action in Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Churubusco. He was brevetted for bravery at the Battle of Chapultepec becoming a major. He was wounded in the Battle of Mexico City. After the Mexican War he supervised fortifications on the New England coast from 1841-1849. He then assumed command of the coast survey office in Washington, D.C. President Franklin Pierce named him the first governor of the Washington Territory and Superintendant of Indian Affairs. In 1853 on the way to his new position in the Washington Territory, he used his engineering skills and mapped and surveyed a railroad route across the U.S.
Stevens was a controversial governor. He used force and intimidation to make the Native American tribes of Washington Territory sign treaties to hand over their land and rights to the government. He was elected to Congress in 1857 serving the Washington Territory until 1861.
Stevens was commissioned as a colonel of the 79th New York Volunteers (Cameron Highlanders) serving under General John Pope in the Northern Virginia Campaign. He was promoted to brigadier general in September, 1861. He fought at Secessionville and 2nd Manassas. He was awarded the rank of major general posthumously in March, 1863. Like Kearny, Isaac Stevens was killed at the Battle of Ox Hill/Chantilly on September 1, 1862 when he picked up the flag from his old regiment shouting “Highlanders, my Highlanders, follow your general.” Stevens was struck in the temple by a bullet and died instantly. The general’s son Major Hazard Stevens was also injured in the battle. Young Hazard was later awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing Fort Huger, Virginia.
Both father and son are interred at Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island. Ms. Rebelle visited their graves in October, 2011.
Stevens County, Washington and Stevens County, Minnesota, Fort Stevens in Washington, DC and also Oregon are all named for him. Also named for him are Stevens Hall at Washington State University, Lake Stevens, Washington, and the town of Stevensville, Montana. Stevens was the author of several books.
Ms. Rebelle is a member of the The Bull Run Civil War Round Table which meets every second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Centreville Regional Library. The public is invited to attend at no cost and visit the website www.bullruncwrt.org for additional activities (tours, etc.)