Historical Markers
Kilpatrick Headquarters Historical Marker
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Kilpatrick Headquarters

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Northwest section of square, Hanover

Dedication Date:
September 14, 1954

Behind the Marker

Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was one of the Civil War's colorful characters. On June 30, 1863, he was in command of two equally colorful brigadiers as his Third Division of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps dueled with Jeb Stuart's Confederate horsemen in and around Hanover. The general occupied this house as headquarters during the several hours of tense combat in and around Hanover.
Portrait of General Judson Kilpatrick.
General Judson Kilpatrick, circa 1863.

Twenty-seven years old in June 1863, the New Jersey native had graduated from West Point in May 1861, then quickly secured a captaincy in the 5th New York, a flashy Zouave regiment that received a lot of press when it marched off to war. Kilpatrick was the first Regular Army officer wounded in battle when he was hit at Big Bethel, Virginia, on June 10, 1861.

After recuperating from his wound, Kilpatrick transferred to the 2nd New York Cavalry and became the unit's colonel. His aggressiveness in battle led to his appointment to brigade command before the fight at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863.

Kilpatrick was a glory-seeker. His reports of combat were riddled with outlandish claims, leading one contemporary to call him a "frothy braggart, without brains." Kilpatrick also had landed in jail twice since the war began; once for confiscating livestock and provisions from Virginia farms, which he then sold for personal gain, and the second time for loudly defaming several government officials during a drinking binge in Washington.

Though happily married with a pregnant wife at home, Kilpatrick also was often seen in the company of prostitutes and camp followers. Indeed, in March 1865, when his camp was surprised by Confederate cavalry, Kilpatrick fled from his headquarters wearing nothing but his nightshirt. His traveling companion, Mary Boozer, took safety in a ditch.

When markerGeorge Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, General Pleasonton implored the new army commander to allow him to reorganize the mounted troopers to make the corps more effective. With Meade's approval Pleasonton incorporated a cavalry division, recently assigned from the Washington defenses, into his corps. Gone were the division commander and both his subordinates. Pleasonton then had Kilpatrick promoted to brigadier general and appointed him to command this new Third Division.
Judson Kilpatrick headquarters.
Judson Kilpatrick headquarters, Hanover, PA, 1863.

Meade also approved Pleasonton's recommendations that three captains– Wesley Merritt, Elon J. Farnsworth, and George A. Custer– who were aggressive combat leaders, be jumped from captain to brigadier general, bypassing all the ranks in between. Merritt was given command of a brigade in the First Cavalry Division while the other two youngsters were assigned to Kilpatrick as his brigade commanders.

Elon J. Farnsworth was placed in command of Kilpatrick's First Brigade. Young Farnsworth, age twenty-six, was expelled from the University of Michigan in 1858 after a fellow student was killed in a prank. Joining the army as a civilian employee, he had seen service during the 1858 Utah Expedition. When war came in 1861, Farnsworth joined the 8th Illinois Cavalry (led by his uncle Colonel John F. Farnsworth).

Elon Farnsworth led several daring reconnaissance raids, and in 1863 was one of Pleasonton's aides when he received his promotion to brigadier general on June 28. Farnsworth would only hold his new rank for six days; for on July 3, he would die on the battlefield at Gettysburg leading a cavalry charge.
Photograph of Elon Farnsworth
Elon Farnsworth

The commander of Kilpatrick's Second Brigade, composed of four Michigan regiments, was George Armstrong Custer, one of the most controversial figures in the history of this country. His death at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, is one of the most famous–and infamous– in American military history.

After graduating last in the West Point class of June 1861, Custer had been assigned to the cavalry and a month later participated in the First Battle of Manassas. One of Pleasonton's staff officers, the young officer had consciously aped his superior's brash mannerisms, and become fond of wearing outlandish uniforms laced with gold braid.

When he was appointed to brigade command, the young general improvised a uniform befitting his new rank. He donned a sailor's shirt adorned with silver stars on the collar, a red cravat, and olive corduroy trousers. Atop his shirt was a black velveteen jacket sparkling with gold lace. To cover his head, Custer wore a brown felt hat. Custer wore his hair in long ringlets, which he curled around candles when he slept. He reeked of cinnamon, recalled a contemporary, which meant that he probably used scented hair oil. "A circus rider gone mad" was how one veteran described him.

The twenty-four-year-old Custer was an aggressive leader who led by example. Custer and his brigade played an important role in repelling the cavalry of Jeb Stuart on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, as Stuart's troops attempted to circle behind the Union lines in an effort to compromise their strong defensive positions.

Wesley Merritt, the third captain that Meade promoted to brigadier general, did not play a significant role at Gettysburg. His brigade did, however, assist Farnsworth's charge in the late afternoon of July 3rd by attacking Confederate troops along the Emmitsburg Road. Merritt would attain greater fame later in the war and in 1898 was in command of the troops going to the Philippines It was these three young men, then, who commanded the Third Cavalry Division in the markerBattle of Hanover.
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