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 move 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. Army officials sent Kautz and his regiment to Texas and they served with Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Monterey (July 7, 1846).
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
Kautz received his discharge from the army on June 14, 1847, and he soon received 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, and Confederate General George B. Anderson, who died at the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation from West Point, the army brevetted Kautz as a second lieutenant and assigned him to the 4th Infantry Regiment garrisoned at Fort Columbus, New York. Officials soon assigned Kautz to frontier duty in Washington Territory, where he campaigned against American Indians until 1859. Kautz received a promotion to second lieutenant on March 24, 1853. He was wounded on October 25, 1855, while serving on a scouting party in the Rogue River Valley in Oregon. Six weeks later, Kautz received a promotion 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, officials sent Kautz to New York on recruiting duty for his regiment. On May 14, 1861, the army promoted him to captain in the newly created 6th United States Cavalry Regiment and assigned him 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), officials appointed Kautz as commander of his regiment. He served in that capacity for three months, before receiving a promotion to colonel and being 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, the army transferred him 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, taking part in the capture of Monticello, Kentucky. On June 9, Kautz received a brevet promotion to major general for his “Gallant and Meritorious Services in Action at Monticello.”
Soon after the engagement at Monticello, army officials placed Kautz in command of a cavalry brigade 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 800 to 1,200 of Morgan’s raiders.
In August 1863, the army named Kautz as 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 took part in the Knoxville Campaign, including ending Confederate General James Longstreet’s unsuccessful Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Return to the East
After the Siege of Knoxville, Kautz briefly served with the Cavalry Bureau at Washington, D.C. for four months in early 1864. On April 16, the War Department promoted Kautz as brigadier general of volunteers and assigned him 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 rest 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. During the Petersburg Campaign, Kautz received a brevet promotion 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 took part 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, 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 a considerable cost. Wilson and Kautz lost nearly 1,400 troopers, all of their artillery, and many horses during the raid.
Occupation of Richmond
Kautz continued to serve in the Petersburg area for the rest of 1864. On October 7, Kautz received a brevet promotion to the rank of colonel in the regular army. On February 14, 1865, the army brevetted him 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. Later, he received brevet promotions 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.”
Trial of Lincoln Conspirators
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 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 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 Kautz garrisoned at Columbus, Mississippi, his wife contracted typhoid fever, dying on June 3, 1868.
On March 15, 1869, army officials transferred Kautz to the 15th U.S. Infantry and sent him to New Mexico, where he campaigned against the Apache Indians. In 1872, Kautz married Fannie Markbreit, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Their marriage produced two children.
Service in the West
Army officials promoted Kautz to colonel on July 8, 1874, and placed him in command of the 8th U.S. Infantry. Less than one year later, on March 22, 1875, officials placed him 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 appeared 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, judges acquitted him of the charges.
Kautz served the rest of his career in the West. On April 20, 1891, army officials promoted him to the rank of brigadier general. Three months later, they transferred him 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. Following a temporary burial in Seattle, Kautz was permanently interred at Arlington National Cemetery.