November 21, 1817 – July 3, 1863
In the American Civil War, Confederate Brigadier-General Richard B. Garnett was mortally wounded during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
Richard Brooke Garnett was born on November 21, 1817, probably at "Rose Hill," one of his family's three plantations in Essex County, Virginia. Garnett was one of twin boys and six girls born to William Henry Garnett and Anna Maria Brooke. His father was a wealthy planter who served with the Virginia militia during the War of 1812.
As a youngster, Garnett attended the Norfolk Academy. On September 1, 1837, he entered the United States Military Academy, along with his cousin, Robert, who later became the first general officer killed during the American Civil War. Among Garnett's classmates at the Academy were future Union generals Don Carlos Buell, John F. Reynolds, Nathaniel Lyon, and Horatio G. Wright. In 1841, Garnett graduated twenty-ninth in his class of fifty-two cadets.
Following his graduation from West Point, Garnett received a commission as a brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1841 and joined the 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment in Florida during the Second Seminole War (1835–1841). Garnett remained with his regiment for the next twenty years, serving in the West, where he campaigned against American Indians and helped to settle territorial disputes. From September 6, 1845 to March 9, 1851, Garnett served as aide-de-camp to his uncle, Brevet Brigadier-General George Mercer. During that period, he attained the rank of first lieutenant on February 16, 1847. Garnett further advanced to the rank of captain on May 9, 1855.
Like his cousin Robert, Garnett's anti-secessionist beliefs did not prevent him from resigning his commission in the United States Army when his home state of Virginia left the Union. Following his resignation, on May 17, 1861, he traveled from California to Virginia to accept an assignment as a major in an artillery unit. By September, Garnett had advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel of Cobb's Georgia Legion. On November 14, he received a promotion to the rank of brigadier-general in command of the 1st Brigade of the Valley District of the Confederate Army of the Potomac, otherwise known as the famous "Stonewall Brigade."
Garnett's rapid rise in the Confederate Army stalled in March 1862 at the Battle of Kernstown I, during General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. Before the battle began, Jackson deployed Garnett's brigade in a defensive position along ridge opposite a Federal division of approximately 8,500 men. The Confederates possessed the better ground, but the Federals had far more men. The Rebels held their position against an afternoon Union assault until they began to run out of ammunition. Faced with the possibility of being overrun, Garnett ordered his men to abandon the ridge. As Garnett's men fell back, other Confederates joined the withdrawal, and the retreat became a rout.
On April 1, Jackson arrested Garnett for "neglect of duty" and relieved him of his command for ordering the retreat without Jackson's authorization. A court martial convened on August 6, 1862, for one day—long enough for Jackson and his aide to testify. The next day, Jackson set out for Culpeper, Virginia in preparation for the Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862). The court martial never reconvened nor did it render a verdict. On September 5, Robert E. Lee reinstated Garnett and assigned him to General James Longstreet's Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Garnett commanded the injured George Pickett's brigade at the Battle of Antietam (September 15, 1862). He assumed permanent command of the brigade on November 26, after Pickett became a divisional commander. Garnett was eager to restore his reputation on the battlefield, but his unit did not participate in the next two major engagements of the Maryland Campaign. His brigade was held in reserve at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862) and was not present at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30–May 6, 1863).
Apparently, Garnett harbored no hard feelings toward Stonewall Jackson for his mistreatment after Kernstown. Following Jackson's death at Chancellorsville, Garnett served as a pallbearer at the stricken general's funeral. Reportedly, he was seen with tears of grief running down his cheeks.
When General Lee began his second invasion of the North (June 1863), Pickett's division, which included Garnett's brigade, served as the army's rearguard. As a result, Garnett did not arrive at Gettysburg until the afternoon of July 2. Because Pickett's division was fresh, Lee selected it to participate in the ill-fated assault on Cemetery Ridge, commonly known as Pickett's Charge, on July 3. Garnett was suffering from a fever and an injured leg that prevented him from leading his men on foot. Despite his condition, Garnett viewed his assignment as the long awaited opportunity to restore his reputation. Thus, Garnett led his brigade into battle on horseback, making him an easy target. As the brigade neared the stone wall at the top of Cemetery Ridge, Garnett was mortally wounded, probably by grapeshot.
Despite the fact that Garnett was dressed as a Confederate general, his body was never identified after the fighting. Almost certainly, Garnett was buried in a mass grave that Union soldiers dug for the Confederates who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1872, the remains from that grave were removed to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, presumably Garnett's final resting place.
- Don Carlos Buell
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Robert Edward Lee
- Thomas Jonathon Jackson
- James Longstreet
- Pickett’s Charge
- Battle of Cedar Mountain
- Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862
- Battle of Kernstown I
- George Edward Pickett
- Nathaniel Lyon
- Robert Selden Garnett
- Maryland Campaign
- John Fulton Reynolds
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Stonewall Brigade