January 5, 1828 – September 4, 1895
A prominent cavalry officer, Ohioan August Kautz served in the Union military in the Eastern and Western Theaters during the American Civil War.
August Valentine Kautz was born on January 5, 1828, in Ispringen, Baden, Germany. He was the first of seven children of Johann Georg and Dorthea Elisabetha (Lowing) Kautz. In August 1828, the Kautz family left Europe for the United States, settling in Baltimore, Maryland. Kautz's father found work as a cabinetmaker and saved enough money to relocate to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1830. In 1832, when August was five years old, the family moved to Georgetown, Ohio, where the elder Kautz started his own cabinetmaking business. As a youth in Georgetown, Kautz worked in his father's shop and attended John White's subscription school, the same school that future United States President Ulysses S. Grant attended.
When the Mexican-American War began in 1846, Kautz went to Cincinnati in June and enlisted for one year as a private in the 1st Infantry Regiment of Ohio Volunteers. Kautz and his regiment were sent to Texas and then served with Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Monterey (July 7, 1846).
Kautz was discharged from the army on June 14, 1847 and soon obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy. He entered West Point on July 1, 1848 and graduated four years later on July 1, 1852, placing thirty-fifth in his class of forty-three cadets. Among Kautz's classmates at the Academy were future Union generals George Crook, Henry W. Slocum, and David S. Stanley, as well as Confederate General George B. Anderson, who died at the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
Following his graduation from West Point, Kautz was brevetted as a second lieutenant, assigned to the 4th Infantry Regiment, and garrisoned at Fort Columbus, New York. Kautz was soon assigned to frontier duty in Washington Territory, where he campaigned against American Indians until 1859. Kautz was advanced to the full rank of second lieutenant on March, 24, 1853. He was wounded on October 25, 1855, while serving on a scouting party in the Rouge River Valley in Oregon. Six weeks later, Kautz was promoted to first lieutenant on December 4, 1855. Kautz was wounded again on March 1, 1856, during an engagement at White River, Washington.
The army granted Kautz a leave of absence in 1859. He traveled in Europe until 1860. Upon his return, Kautz was back in Oregon when the Civil War erupted. With the outbreak of hostilities, Kautz was sent to New York on recruiting duty for his regiment. On May 14, 1861, he was promoted to captain in the newly-created 6th United States Cavalry Regiment and assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C.
Kautz served with the Army of the Potomac during Major General George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign (March 17–August 14, 1862). Just prior to the Seven Days Battles (June 25–July 1, 1862), Kautz was appointed as commander of his regiment. He served in that capacity for three months, before he was promoted to colonel and transferred to the Western Theater with the 2nd Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Cavalry on September 10, 1862.
Kautz's first assignment in the West was garrison duty at Fort Scott, A few months later, he was transferred to Camp Chase, a Union prison and training facility in Columbus, Ohio. He served as commander there from December 25, 1862 to April 1863. By May 1, 1863, Kautz was back in the saddle, participating in the capture of Monticello, Kentucky. On June 9, Kautz was brevetted to major general for his "Gallant and Meritorious Services in Action at Monticello."
Soon after the engagement at Monticello, Kautz was placed in command of a brigade of cavalry that pursued Confederate forces under General John Hunt Morgan during their raid through southern Ohio. On July 19, Kautz's Brigade caught up with Morgan's men as they were preparing to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia at Buffington Island, near Portland, Ohio. As fighting erupted along the river, Kautz's Brigade blocked the Rebels' avenue of retreat. Kautz ordered an assault on the Confederate rear that contributed to the capture of eight hundred to 1,200 of Morgan's raiders.
In August 1863, Kautz was named Chief of Cavalry of the 23d Army Corps, serving on Brigadier-General Mahlon D. Manson's headquarters staff. In November and December, he and his men participated in the Knoxville Campaign, including ending Confederate General James Longstreet's unsuccessful Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee.
After the Siege of Knoxville was lifted, Kautz briefly served with the Cavalry Bureau at Washington, D.C. for four months in early 1864. On April 16, he was promoted to brigadier-general of volunteers and was assigned to Major General Benjamin Butler's Army of the James. On April 20, Butler placed Kautz in command of the army's Cavalry Division. Throughout the remainder of 1864 to late-March 1865, Kautz and his cavalry spent most of their time raiding railroad lines in Virginia during General Ulysses S. Grant's campaign against Richmond and Petersburg. Kautz was brevetted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army, effective June 9, 1864, "for Gallant and Meritorious Services in an Attack on Petersburg."
During the campaign against Petersburg, Kautz and his division participated in a foray into eastern Virginia, known as the Wilson-Kautz Raid. The mission began on June 22, 1864, under the leadership of Brigadier-General James Harrison Wilson, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac. The goal of the raid was to destroy as much of the Richmond and Danville Railroad and the Southside Railroad as possible, thereby denying Rebel troops at Richmond and Petersburg much needed supplies. By the time the raiders returned to Union lines on July 1, they had inflicted considerable damage to Confederate infrastructure in the area. However, the spoilage came at considerable cost. Wilson and Kautz lost nearly 1,400 troopers, all of their artillery, and many horses during the raid.
Kautz continued to serve in the Petersburg area for the remainder of 1864. On October 7, he was brevetted to the rank of colonel in the regular army. On February 14, 1865, Kautz was brevetted to major general in the volunteer army, effective October 28, 1864, for "Gallant and Meritorious Services during the Campaign against Richmond." From March until May 1865, Kautz commanded the 1st Division, 25th Army Corps, during the occupation of Richmond. He was subsequently brevetted to brigadier-general and major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865, for "Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion."
From May until June 1865, Kautz served as one of nine members of the Military Commission that tried the accused conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. At the end of the trial, Kautz and four other members of the commission signed a clemency request to President Andrew Johnson to spare the life of convicted conspirator Mary Surratt. Johnson refused to act on the request. Kautz later observed:
Mrs. Surratt was shown to have been active in the conspiracy to kidnap, prior to the capture of Richmond. That she was a willing participant in his death was not clearly made out. My own impression was that she was involved in the final result against her will by her previous connection with the conspiracy. Mary Surratt was hanged along with three other defendants on July 7, 1865.
Following the conclusion of the Lincoln conspiracy trial, Kautz returned to Ohio. On September 14, 1865, he married Charlotte Tod, daughter of former Ohio governor David Tod. Kautz was mustered out of the volunteer army on January 15, 1866. He remained in the regular army as a lieutenant colonel with the 34th U.S. Infantry, serving at various posts in the South for the next few years. While he was garrisoned at Columbus, Mississippi, his wife contracted typhoid fever, dying on June 3, 1868.
On March 15, 1869, Kautz was transferred to the 15th U.S. Infantry and was sent to New Mexico, where he campaigned against the Apache Indians. In 1872, Kautz married Fannie Markbreit, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Their marriage produced two children.
Kautz was promoted to colonel on July 8, 1874 and given command of the 8th U.S. Infantry. Less than one year later, on March 22, 1875, he was placed in command of the Department of Arizona. During his time in Arizona, Kautz ran afoul of local residents, other army officers, and influential politicians in Washington D.C. for his criticism of the treatment of Native Americans by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. On March 5, 1878, General William T. Sherman bowed to political and public pressure and transferred Kautz and the 8th Infantry to California. Two months later, Kautz was brought before a court-martial, on May 1, 1878, for publicly criticizing William McKee Dunn, Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army. On June 4, Kautz was acquitted of the charges.
He served the remainder of his career in the West. On April 20, 1891, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. Three months later, he was transferred to the Department of the Columbia, which he commanded from July 25, 1891 until his retirement on January 5, 1892.
On the night of September 4, 1895, Kautz died unexpectedly in Seattle, Washington, at the age of sixty-seven years. Following a temporary burial in Seattle, Kautz was permanently interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
- John Hunt Morgan
- Buffington Island
- Camp Chase
- Morgan’s Raid
- Morgan’s Raiders
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Knoxville Campaign
- Battle of Antietam
- Peninsula Campaign
- Seven Days Battles
- George Brinton McClellan
- Abraham Lincoln
- George Crook
- James Longstreet
- David Tod
- Andrew Johnson
- William Tecumseh Sherman
- Henry Warner Slocum
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of the James
- General Orders, No. 256 (U.S. War Department)
- Mexican-American War
- Wilson-Kautz Raid