Richard Brooke Garnett (1817-1863)

Richard Brooke Garnett (November 21, 1817 - July 3, 1863) was a career U.S. Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Garnett was born on the "Rose Hill" estate in Essex County, Virginia. He was the cousin of Robert Seldon Garnett, also a Confederate general, who holds the dubious distinction of being the first general officer killed during the civil war. (The photograph of Richard Garnett in this article is one of only two known and it may in fact be of his cousin Robert instead. A written description of his appearance speaks of light hair, blue eyes, and no beard.)

Both of the cousins graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1841. Richard was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 6th U.S. Infantry and he served in a variety of posts in Florida, fighting the Seminoles, and then in the West, where he commanded Fort Laramie, rode with the Mormon Expedition, and was a noted Indian fighter.

During the Mexican War, he served in staff positions in New Orleans.

He learned of the outbreak of the Civil War while serving as a captain in California and, despite believing strongly that the Union should not be dissolved, he returned to Virginia to fight for his native state and the Confederacy.

His first assignment in Virginia was as a major of artillery and then a lieutenant colonel of the Georgia Legion.

He was promoted to brigadier general on November 14, 1861, and commanded the 1st Brigade of the Valley District of the Confederate Army of the Potomac, which was the brigade originally formed by Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, the Stonewall Brigade. Jackson was now in overall command in the Shenandoah Valley. During the Valley Campaign of 1862, Garnett's military career took a downward turn at the First Battle of Kernstown.

Jackson marched his army 40 miles to intercept a portion of the Union army under General Nathaniel P. Banks. On March 23, 1862, Jackson's cavalry commander, Turner Ashby, brought faulty intelligence that the retreating Union division of James Shields had four regiments in the rear outside Winchester, Virginia. Since that force was of comparable size to Jackson's, he ordered Garnett and the Stonewall Brigade to attack. Unfortunately, Shields had a full infantry division on hand, almost 9,000 men, twice the size of Jackson's force. The attack went badly and Garnett, finding his brigade low on ammunition and surrounded by attacking forces from three sides, ordered a retreat. Jackson was infuriated and accused Garnett of disobeying orders, meaning that he should not have retreated without obtaining permission from Jackson first. Jackson, well-known as an overly strict disciplinarian, arrested Garnett for "neglect of duty" on April 1 and relieved him of command. Garnett's court-martial started in August, 1862, with only Jackson and his aide giving testimony. However the trial was suspended due to the start of Robert E. Lee's Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run. Lee ordered Jackson to release Garnett from arrest and he was assigned to command the injured George Pickett's brigade in General James Longstreet's First Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia. Garnett commanded the brigade credibly at the Battle of Antietam, after which he assumed permanent command of the brigade when Pickett was promoted to division, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. He did not participate in the Battle of Chancellorsville because Longstreet's Corps was assigned duties in Suffolk, Virginia.

Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville and Garnett returned to Richmond where Jackson's body lay in state. Despite his professional disagreement with Jackson, Garnett held no ill will against him and was observed crying beside the casket. He then served as a pall bearer along with Longstreet, Richard S. Ewell, and others.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Garnett's brigade continued in the division of George Pickett and, due to the order of march, did not reach the battlefield from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, until late on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, missing the first two days of the Battle of Gettysburg. Pickett's division was assigned by General Lee to lead a great assault on the Union's center on Cemetery Ridge. Garnett's brigade was in the front rank, on the left, next to James L. Kemper's brigade. Garnett was in no shape to lead an infantry charge. He was suffering from fever and an injured leg when his horse kicked him; he could not walk. But Garnett yearned to settle the record of his military dishonor from Kernstown, which the aborted court-martial could not. Despite protestations from other officers, Garnett insisted on leading his soldiers into battle on horseback, becoming an obvious target for Union riflemen. Garnett personally got to within 20 yards of the "Angle" on Cemetery Ridge and was never seen again. He presumably was hit by canister fire and his body was so badly damaged that it could not be identified afterwards. His colleagues realized that he had been killed when his horse, "Red Eye", returned to the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge without him.

In 1872, remains of Confederate dead were brought from Gettysburg and reinterred to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The Hollywood Memorial Association erected a cenotaph in Garnett's honor in 1991, making the assumption that his remains were in this group. Years after the war, Garnett's sword was located in a Baltimore pawnshop and was purchased by former Confederate Brigadier General George H. Steuart.