The Struggles of a Young and Inexperienced Junior Officer Circa: 1863 New Jersey Infantry Belt Buckle (http://civilwarbuckles.com/pages/states/newJersey.html)
Philip J. Kearny was born on December 15th, 1841 in Trenton, New Jersey to John Watts Kearny and Eliza Gordon Hammeken Kearny. Named for his uncle, Major General Philip Kearny Jr., he was the second oldest of four children with sisters Eliza, Caroline, and Adela. Kearny’s father passed away in 1850, leaving Philip as the male head of the household at the youthful age of nine years old. Kearny learned to grow up fast due to his new role as patriarch. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Philip’s uncle was commissioned a Brigadier General in charge of the New Jersey’s First Brigade. Philip J. Kearny was quick to follow his uncle’s footsteps, receiving a commission as the Captain of Company A, 11th New Jersey Volunteers, on May 27th, 1862. Kearny was a mere twenty-one years of age, but his familial legacy of military service elevated him in the eyes his peers.
The 11th NJ Volunteers was formally mustered into service on August 18th, 1862 at Camp Perrine, located in Trenton, New Jersey. Organized by men from Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, and Union counties and commanded by Col. Robert McAllister, the regiment was part of the 1st New Jersey Brigade, 2nd Division, III Corps. Kearny was a vocal critic of McAllister’s lenient alcohol policies within the regiment, policies which Kearny found incongruent with the traditional 19th-century values of temperance, self-discipline, and morality. Additionally, alcohol had the potential to distract soldiers from their training and official military duties, and often resulted in other disciplinary issues within the regiment. Kearny lamented, “the way whiskey passed into the cars at every stopping place, gave us trouble.” Like many soldiers, Kearny quickly learned that many aspects of soldiering, including the tedium and monotony of camp life and daily drill, often produced behavior that directly conflicted with the Victorian values that men had grown up with. Finding a way to make sense of such contradictions and balance one’s ideals with the practical necessities of war proved to be one of the challenges for Kearny’s men– and for the officers who commanded them.
Capt. Kearny faced numerous additional challenges as a new junior officer, including a fair share of criticism from his peers prior to his combat experiences. His own uncle, Maj. General Philip Kearny Jr. viewed his nephew as a “dunce” and ill-suited to lead a company into battle with sufficient success. Capt. Kearny’s men thought him conceited and unnecessarily harsh toward them. However, Captain Kearny viewed his disciplinary methods as essential, stating that his youthful regiment was “by no means, the best that has left New Jersey.” In Joseph G. Bilby and William C. Goble’s regimental history Remember You Are Jerseymen!, the 11th was described as “two-thirds of those composing the regiment had not reached the age of 21 and many were under 17.”
Kearny himself, a proud product of the more “refined” strata of society, was even critical of his fellow officers, dismissing them as “mechanics, and of that class, that do not suit me as companions.” Clearly, Kearny like many junior officers in the early-war period, believed strongly that the most essential qualities for successful officers were wealth, education, and respectability. Earning the respect and trust of subordinates, many of whom believed themselves the social equals of their officers and who rankled at the thought of rigid military hierarchy, would prove a challenge for young officers such as Kearny. Often, such respect was best earned on the battlefield through acts of bravery, heroism, and selflessness.
Drill, Disease, and Boredom Army of the Potomac tents outside Washington D.C. (http://www.war-stories.com/walker-moh-poss-1865.htm
Like most new regiments entering the Union army in the summer of 1862, the 11th NJ Volunteers was initially placed in trenches surrounding Washington D.C. to defend the capital. However, when mid-September arrived, and other New Jersey regiments began moving towards Maryland to fight in the Antietam campaign, the majority of the 11th NJ still performed trivial and cumbersome tasks outside the capital, including guarding stragglers and patrolling prison camps. Captain Kearny’s company itself was assigned to the monotonous task of provost duty in Alexandria. As if the boredom of camp life were not enough to test the spirits of the Jerseyans, a measles outbreak swept through the regiment that Fall, temporarily reducing the regiment’s combat strength by half. With disease being the single greatest killer of soldiers during the Civil War, the measles epidemic would only be the first of many such illnesses to challenge the physical and mental endurance of Kearny and his men.
After pushing through the hardships of the early days of the regiment, the 11th NJ was finally reassigned in November of 1862 to a new brigade consisting of the 1st, 11th, and 16th Massachusetts, the 2nd New Hampshire, and the 26th Pennsylvania. At the time, Capt. Kearny had been serving as an engineer officer on a comfortable detached duty while the rest of the regiment was in camp suffering from yet another series of severe diseases including typhoid, dysentery, and small pox. Despite the regimental tensions caused by this dichotomy in living conditions for officers and enlisted men, upon hearing of the 11th’s imminent dispatch to the front lines that December, Kearny immediately rushed back to Washington to rejoin his troops, who were mustering in preparation for the coming Fredericksburg campaign.
Enduring Combat and Controversy National Color of the 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry, 1863 SHFC56, State House Flag Collection, held in repository and curated by the New Jersey State Museum for the State Capitol Joint Management Commission
When the 11th NJ left Washington D.C. for the front, many battle-seasoned troops saw them as a regiment of boys who would not effectively perform in battle. However, after the bloodletting at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, both Kearny and the 11th NJ emerged as successful combat veterans who had proven their martial manhood in battle. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, on December 13th, 1862, Kearny and the 11th New Jersey were assigned guard to one of the pontoon bridges that would be used to cross the Rappahannock River for the Union assault on the town. The 11th had a panoramic view of the battle and as dusk fell, the New Jerseyans couldn’t help but stand in awe of the thousands of musketry sparks that lit up the darkness below Marye’s Heights. Undoubtedly, they watched the lethal scene unfold before their eyes with a mix of wonder and terror, knowing it would be their turn to charge the heights the next day. The following day, the 11th crossed the river and advanced through town, receiving their first battle casualties. After a brave assault that left two dead, four wounded, and six missing, Captain Kearny was impressed with his men’s unexpectedly solid battle performance. Despite the Union’s disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg, the men of the 11th New Jersey were relieved to have finally shed their status as “green soldiers” and to have finally gotten the opportunity to prove themselves in battle.
On December 15th, the 11th retreated back across the Rappahannock and established winter quarters on the Fitzhugh Farm near Falmouth, Virginia. Gradually, the reality of the Union army’s failure at Fredericksburg began to sink in amidst the Jerseyans, who grew increasingly disheartened by the prospect of the army’s slow return to Washington. The 11th NJ broke camp on January 21st, 1863 and departed for what would be known as General Burnside’s infamous “Mud March”, with the Jerseyans slogging through miles of mud and water, fields and woods, plunging into the soggy ground at every step. The morale of the Union Army of the Potomac had reached its low point.
In March, the promotion of General “Fighting Joe” Hooker to army command somewhat bolstered the spirits of the Jerseyans. At the same time, however, many of the men within the 11th NJ had begun vocalizing an interest in both national and New Jersey politics. Shortly after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation that January, Captain Kearny repeatedly heard his men “curse the president for his Emancipation Message” and rave that the unpopular decree had ensured that “the abolition party has seen very near its last hours.” Many of the officers in the 11th, Kearny included, staunchly disagreed with these men and scorned their denunciations of Lincoln. Later in the month, Kearny and his fellow officers became even more incensed over their state’s reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation, zealously denouncing what Kearny called the “pro-Confederate” “Peace Resolutions” passed by the New Jersey state legislature. Kearny blasted the resolutions as “wicked, weak, and cowardly” of his home state. The war’s goals and stakes clearly had shifted in 1863, and Kearny would make sure both his peers and subordinates knew that he stood squarely behind the entirety of the Union war effort.
The Blunders of Chancellorsville Photo of the 1st Massachusetts, who used the same rifles as Berdan's Sharpshooters (https://civilwartalk.com/threads/long-arms-of-berdans-sharpshooters.119633/page-20)
In mid-April, New Jersey’s governor, Joel Parker, visited the regiment in camp for an inspection and found the 11th to be around 500 strong. On April 28th, 1863, the regiment broke winter quarters and on May 1st, crossed the Rappahannock, en route to Chancellorsville. After a long winter, much of the regiment was eager to once again see action. The 11th was deployed as reserves near the Chancellor House, where the Jerseymen received sporadic fire during the fighting on May 2nd. After Stonewall Jackson smashed into the XI Corps flank that evening, the III Corps was thrown into battle to help stem the rout and prevent the utter destruction of the XI Corps. The III Corps regiments moved at a double-quick to aid in the repulse. Brigadier General Hiram G. Berry, the Second Division commander, led General Carr’s brigade forward past the Chancellor house and down the Plank Road to a position just behind the front line near Fairview. General Berry then left Colonel McAllister and the 11th stating, “Now colonel, do your very best.” Having only played a minor role in the fighting at Fredericksburg, the 11th was still waiting for its first major engagement, though many were nervous about the combat to come.
That night, the majestic choreography of the Confederate probes and Union counterattacks left Captain Kearny in awe, stating “the infantry vollies were continual and when the Batteries of both sides opened with shell, the scene was glorious.” On May 3rd, General Carr ordered the 11th New Jersey to deploy in line of battle on the right of the Plank Road. When Rebels attacked the fortified Yankee position held by the 11th Massachusetts and the 2nd NJ Brigade, the 11th could not return direct fire due to the bullets and shells bursting amongst them. Colonel McAllister gave the order for his troops to lay down. By midmorning, the Union’s first line had retreated, with Confederate advances exposing their front and right flank to enemy fire. McAllister received conflicting orders from his corps and brigade commanders, but ultimately followed the latter’s order, directing the 11th to unleash their fire into the advancing enemy’s flank. This action only drew attention to the regiment, however and they began receiving heavy fire from the enemy. The 11th NJ’s state and national flagstaffs were severed by bullets, and within minutes a dozen of the regiment’s officers and seven of Philip Kearny’s enlisted men fell as casualties. The regiment temporarily wavered under the hail of fire, but was ultimately rallied by Colonel McAllister, Captain Kearny, Adjutant Schoonover, and Color Sergeant Albert Du Puget, who advanced with his bullet-strewn flag and destroyed staff. Kearny’s poised and stalwart leadership undoubtedly aided in the reorganization of the men.
Eventually, the Second New Jersey Brigade fell back on the left of Plank Road, and the 11th withdrew from action. After another counterattack by the 11th and the Second New Jersey Brigade, the troops finally retreated behind the Federal gun line near the Chancellor House. Only about 180 men remained with the 11th’s ranks. Most of the regiment’s survivors were then deployed to support the Federal batteries, where the 11th remained exposed to both small arms and artillery fire throughout the remainder of the day.
On the afternoon of May 4th, the Jerseymen were ordered to take what Captain Kearny characterized as “an ugly position” in advance of the main Union line to support Berdan’s Sharpshooters. The situation only grew worse when some of the sharpshooters withdrew, while the unit on the 11th’s flank did the same, leaving the 11th exposed and isolated. A sudden volley from the front led the regiment to mistakenly return fire into the ranks of the sharpshooters. Despite Colonel McAllister’s best efforts to hold the line steady, the regiment retreated in confusion. This blunder caused a great dispute between the commanders of both regiments. Captain Kearny wrote that “Berdan’s Sharpshooters fell back disgracefully” from the front lines. While Colonel Berdan directed blame toward the unseasoned New Jersey troops, Berdan claimed the Jerseyans retreated at noise like cowards, an accusation that cut deeply into the New Jerseyan’s sense of masculine pride and honor. Such accusations reminded them that even by mid-1863, their regiment still had not overcome its poor early-war reputation.
Following the disaster, Colonel McAllister and Captain Kearny collected their scattered men who had mistakenly landed in the ranks of the 7th New Jersey after breaking line. Embarrassed, but finally reunited and rallied by their commanders, the regiment held its position until they were relieved on the morning of May 5th. That night, General Hooker led the battered and defeated Union Army of the Potomac back across the Rappahannock to its old camp sites. Thirty-five of the Jerseymen had been killed or mortally wounded. Moreover, the 11th’s reputation had once again been tarnished in the eyes of fellow regiments. Although the often-insurmountable fog of war and natural chaos of battle were likely responsible for the 11th’s embarrassing mishap, Kearny and his men were in desperate need for redemption.
Despite the misfortunes of May 4th, the 11th New Jersey performed bravely in its first major battle and was personally praised by General Hooker himself as “a gallant regiment.” Captain Kearny’s curiosity about his regiment’s first major engagement was finally satisfied, and he was pleased with his personal performance in battle. Even with “men torn in pieces by shell close by…and the blood and brains,” Kearny reported that he did not feel a “shudder” and was “quite satisfied” with his actions. Captain Kearny went on to write, “standing in the front line of the fight, or leading on a charge, all sense of danger left, there was so much to attend to and excitement, though terrible, was pleasant.” Kearny’s surprisingly calm and stoic response to battle could have stemmed from the adrenaline rush of battle; certainly, for many soldiers, the need for survival and the support of comrades could have easily subsumed fears of death in the heat of battle. However, Kearny may have also wanted to convey a specific narrative of masculinity, bravery, or soldierly honor to his readers, particularly in light of the accusations of cowardice that he and his regiment received from peers.
Following the defeat at Chancellorsville, the 11th NJ happily returned to a routine of drill and picket duty, with Captain Kearny receiving a promotion to Major in late May for his gallantry in battle. It was not until June 11th that the 11th NJ would break camp and move out with General Hooker toward Pennsylvania in response to Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North.
Redemption at Gettysburg Section of the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama which depicts Pickett's Charge https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-gettysburg
The march north was humid, hot, and challenging, with Major Kearny personally relieved that his new rank had granted him a horse. The men were happy to leave hostile Virginia, crossing back into Maryland where they were greeted with food and friendliness. The 11th NJ and the III Corps would eventually arrive on the southern outskirts of Gettysburg around 1:00 a.m. on July 2nd. At dawn, the regiment deployed along the III Corps line, which extended southward along Cemetery Ridge. Soon after surveying the terrain in his front, Major General Daniel Sickles, the commander of the III Corps, decided that his position resembled far too closely that of his failed line at Chancellorsville, and made a rash (and unauthorized) decision to advance his corps forward onto higher ground. However, Sickles’s re-positioning dangerously isolated and exposed his entire corps to flanking fire and created a sizable gap within the main Union line.
Sickles deployed the 11th NJ, now part of General Humphreys’ Second Division of the III Corps, along the Emmitsburg Pike that afternoon. The division’s three brigades, which included five New Jersey regiments, moved forward in perfect unison, but were halted by puffs of smoke in the woods to the west and an ensuing artillery barrage. The 11th NJ continued to advance through the sporadic bursts of cannon shells and eventually took up a position on the northeast side of the Emmitsburg Pike. Shortly after deploying, a cloud of shrapnel exploded over their heads, forcing them to hug the earth and grit their teeth as they awaited the inevitable infantry assaults. Pinned to the ground amidst the hailstorm of exploding iron, Kearny surely must have had flashbacks to the regiment’s debacles at Chancellorsville and contemplated how to extricate his men safely, but proudly, from their desperate situation. The fact that the Jerseyans did not break and flee but remained clam within their ranks was a testament to Kearny’s personal poise and bravery in the thickest of the fray.
The sounds of firing quickly intensified as Brigadier General William Barksdale’s 18th, 13th, and 17th Mississippi regiments slammed into the Federal line in the Peach Orchard to the south. In response, the 11th rose and shifted left to protect the Second Brigade’s right flank. However, when the artillery fire increased again, Colonel McAllister once more ordered his men to lie down, the deadly case-shot filling the sky over their heads with its lethal iron shrapnel.
As General Barksdale began to rout the Federals from the Peach Orchard, Colonel McAllister ordered his men to stand amidst the hailstorm of artillery and small arms fire to return volleys into Barksdale’s Mississippians. As the Jerseymen battled the Mississippians in their front, General Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabamians arose from the woodlands to the west, trapping the 11th between two waves of attackers and subjecting them to a lethal cross-fire. Sensing the severity of the situation, Major Kearny placed his hand on adjutant John Schoonover’s shoulder and solemnly remarked, “I tell you we are going to have a fight.”
Just moments later, Major Kearny spun ten feet backward, a minie ball lodged in his knee. Around the same time, Colonel McAllister was making his way toward the center of the regiment’s line, yelling orders, when a minie ball passed through his left thigh. Both Colonel McAllister and Major Kearny were dragged off the line back to McAllister’s tent, where they would lie for the next five days, side by side. Captain Luther Martin assumed command of the regiment, with the 11th losing three more officers within the next half hour.
Eventually, the 11th New Jersey was ordered to withdraw and fell back to a defensive position along Cemetery Ridge. While other regiments broke and ran amidst the heat of battle, the 11th stood and contested every foot of ground, taking unparalleled casualties compared to fellow regiments along the Pike. As the sun began to set over the battlefield, Union reinforcements finally halted the Confederate assault and forced the Rebels back to Seminary Ridge. By the end of the day’s battle, the 11th NJ was left in the hands of Captain Samuel Tucker Sleeper, who was a mere tailor prior to the war’s outbreak. Sleeper’s rise to regimental command reflected both the shocking scope of officer casualties created by the war’s carnage, but also the blunt reality that the intensity and duration of the war would necessitate the rise of ordinary civilians to wholly unanticipated levels of leadership and martial responsibility. Of the 275 officers and men whom the regiment originally brought to the Emmitsburg Pike, thirty-eight were killed and another 109 were wounded, with twelve missing. The gallantry the Jerseymen presented on the field is summarized succinctly by historian Harry W. Pfanz who stated, “they did New Jersey proud that day.”
On July 3rd, the 11th was deployed in support of the Union artillery batteries during Pickett’s charge and the barrage preceding it. The Battle of Gettysburg had resulted in a Union Victory, but for the 11th NJ, it was a costly and hard-fought battle, at the price of 56% losses (37th greatest casualties of the 247 regiments at Gettysburg) including the majority of its officers. As Kearny learned too well, the true measure of a good officer was not, in fact, his refined upbringing, but rather his ability to lead by example in the thickest of the fray, along with a willingness to give one’s life while doing so.
The Legacy of New Jersey The grave of Maj. Philip J. Kearny (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10413/philip-john-kearny)
Following their severe wounds received on July 2nd, both Colonel McAllister and Major Kearny were sent home through Philadelphia, with McAllister eventually recovering from his wound at home in New Jersey. Kearny, however, was not as fortunate. Following his admittance to St. Luke’s hospital in New York City on July 10th, Kearny would linger amidst the agonizing cries, blood-soaked sheets, and mangled bodies of the wounded for over a month. The surgeon who inspected Kearny on July 24th, 1863 approved an extended leave of absence from the army stating, “he is suffering from a severe wound by a musket ball which has shattered his knee joint.” The severity of the wound proved too crippling for young Kearny to overcome. Major Kearny succumbed to his wound on August 9th, 1863 in St. Luke’s Hospital.
Dying at the mere age of twenty-two, Kearny was not married when he passed away. With both her husband and only son now deceased, Philip’s mother, Eliza was left to care for her three daughters on her own. Financial support for her family came in part from the monthly twenty-five-dollar pension that she applied for, and quickly received in 1863, in the wake of Philip’s death. Without any primary source of income, Eliza relied on the Federal government for her families’ survival. This grim reality polluted many families of dead and disabled soldiers following the aftermath of the war, with many paternal “caretakers” unable to properly provide for their families by Victorian standards.
Kearny himself would have been proud of the legacy left by the 11th NJ at Gettysburg. Though not one of the better-known regiments to fight at the battle, the 11th played a central role in repulsing the climatic wave of Confederate assaults that threatened Cemetery Ridge and ultimately Cemetery Hill, the lynchpin of the entire battlefield on the late afternoon of July 2nd, 1863. His men had more than redeemed themselves and proven their worth as brave and battle-seasoned soldiers who would not flinch when placed under the most severe trials of battlefield combat. For his own gallantry and meritorious service, Philip J. Kearny was breveted to Colonel on July 16th, 1867– a rank just two levels below his famed uncle who had once expressed such skepticism about his nephew’s martial prowess. As fate would have it, Philip J. Kearny would give his life in the service to his country less than a year after his uncle’s ultimate sacrifice at Chantilly. Like his men on July 2, 1863, Philip J. Kearny had done New Jersey very well indeed that day.
Bilby, Joseph G., and William C. Goble. Remember You Are Jerseymen!: a Military History of New Jersey’s Troops in the Civil War. Longstreet House, 1998.
Compiled Service Record, Philip J. Kearny, Co. A 11th N.J. Accessed via National Archives, Washington D.C.
“Eleventh New Jersey Volunteer Infantry.” New Jersey Department of State, www.nj.gov/state/archives/sdea0011.html.
Foster, John Y. (1868). New Jersey and the Rebellion: A History of the services of the troops and people of New Jersey in aid of the Union cause. Published by Authority of the State. Newark, N.J.; Martin R. Dennis & Co. 1868.
Marbaker, Thomas D. “History of the Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers : from Its Organization to Appomattox : to Which Is Added Experiences of Prison Life and Sketches of Individual Members.” History of the Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers : from Its Organization to Appomattox : to Which Is Added Experiences of Prison Life and Sketches of Individual Members, Emory University, Robert W. Woodruff Library, archive.org/stream/05794449.3374.emory.edu/05794449_3374#page/n15/mode/2up.
Martin, David G. New Jersey at Gettysburg Guidebook. New Jersey Civil War Heritage Association, 2012.
“MAJ Philip John Kearny (1841-1863) – Find A Grave…” Find A Grave, www.findagrave.com/memorial/10413/philip-john-kearny.
“Page 5 of Civil War Regiment Flags | Resources | Militia Museum of New Jersey.” NJ.gov, www.nj.gov/military/museum/civil_war/05.html.
“Philip J. Kearny.” New Jersey Department of State, www.nj.gov/state/archives/sdea4010images4.html#188.
“Monument to the 11th New Jersey at Gettysburg.” The Battle of Gettysburg, gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/new-jersey/11th-new-jersey/.
“New Jersey.” Parsley’s Brass Civil War Belt Buckles | New Jersey, civilwarbuckles.com/pages/states/newJersey.html.
Narrative and map by Benjamin T. Hutchison, Gettysburg College.