Richard B. Garnett

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.

General Richard B Garnett, Civil War

Richard B. Garnett. Image Source: Virginia Historical Society.

Who Was Richard B. Garnett?

Richard Brooke Garnett was an American military officer who lived from 1817 to 1863. He is known for his service as a general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Garnett graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1841 and served in the Mexican-American War. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Garnett resigned from the United States Army and joined the Confederacy, where he rose to the rank of brigadier general. He saw combat in several significant battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was mortally wounded while leading his troops during Pickett’s Charge.

Battle of Gettysburg, Pickett's Charge
Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Richard B. Garnett Facts

  • Full Name: Richard Brooke Garnett
  • Birth Date: November 21, 1817
  • Birth Location: Probably at “Rose Hill,” one of his family’s three plantations in Essex County, Virginia
  • Parents: William Henry and Anna Maria (Brooke) Garnett
  • Education: United States Military Academy
  • Occupation: Military officer
  • Career Summary: Captain (USA), Brigadier General (CSA)
  • Spouse: None
  • Place of Death: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Date of Death: July 3, 1863
  • Place of Burial: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Early Life

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 the twin boys and six girls born to William Henry and Anna Maria (Brooke) Garnett. 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 Garnett, 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.

U.S. Army Officer

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.

Civil War

Confederate Officer

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.

Controversy at the First Battle of Kernstown

Garnett’s rapid rise in the Confederate Army stalled in March 1862 at the First Battle of Kernstown, 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 the 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 to prepare 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.

Thomas Stonewall Jackson, Illustration
Stonewall Jackson. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Antietam

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 take part in the next two major engagements of the Army of Northern Virginia. His brigade stood 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).

Jackson’s Funeral

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 had tears of grief running down his cheeks.

Death at Gettysburg

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 the Battle of Gettysburg until the afternoon of July 2. Because Pickett’s division was fresh, Lee selected it to take part 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 received a mortal wound, probably from grapeshot.

Even though Garnett wore a Confederate general’s uniform, 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.

Richard B. Garnett Significance

Richard Brooke Garnett was significant because of his service as a military officer during a pivotal moment in American history. After graduating from the United States Military Academy and serving in the Mexican-American War, he resigned from the U.S. Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and joined the Confederacy, rising to the rank of brigadier general. Garnett played a key role in several significant battles, including the Battle of  Gettysburg, where he was mortally wounded while leading his troops. His legacy is complicated by his role in the Confederate Army, which fought to uphold slavery and secede from the United States. However, his leadership and tactics on the battlefield are still studied and recognized by historians as an important aspect of the Civil War.

Richard B. Garnett — Facts About His Life and Accomplishments

  • 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’s father was a wealthy planter who served with the Virginia militia during the War of 1812.
  • On September 1, 1837, Garnett entered the United States Military Academy, along with his cousin, Robert (who later became the first general officer killed during the American Civil War).
  • In 1841, Garnett graduated from the United States Military Academy ranked 29th in his class of 52 cadets.
  • Following his graduation from West Point, Garnett was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1841, and assigned to the 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment.
  • Garnett served for twenty years with the 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment in the West where he campaigned against American Indians and helped 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.
  • Garnett was promoted to first lieutenant in the U.S. Army on February 16, 1847.
  • Garnett was promoted to captain in the U.S. on May 9, 1855.
  • Garnett resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on May 17, 1861, to fight for his home state of Virginia in the American Civil War.
  • By September 1861, Garnett had advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel of Cobb’s Georgia Legion.
  • On November 14, Garnett was promoted to brigadier general in command of the 1st Brigade of the Valley District of the Confederate Army of the Potomac.
  • On April 1, 1862, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson arrested Garnett for “neglect of duty” and relieved him of his command for ordering a retreat at the First Battle of Kernstown without Jackson’s authorization.
  • Court-martial proceedings against Garnett for his retreat at the First Battle of Kernstown lasted only one day (August 6, 1862), and never rendered a verdict.
  • On September 5, 1862, General Robert E. Lee reinstated Garnett and assigned him 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).
  • Garnett assumed permanent command of George Pickett’s brigade on November 26, after Pickett was promoted to divisional commander.
  • Following Stonewall Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville, Garnett served as a pallbearer at the stricken general’s funeral. Reportedly he had tears of grief running down his cheeks.
  • When General Robert E. 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 didn’t arrive at Gettysburg until the afternoon of July 2, 1863.
  • Robert E Lee selected Pickett’s division, which included Garnett’s brigade, to take part in the ill-fated assault on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, commonly known as Pickett’s Charge.
  • Garnett was suffering from a fever and an injured leg that prevented him from leading his men on foot during Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead, he led his men into battle mounted on a horse, making him an easy target.
  • Garnett was mortally wounded, probably by grapeshot, during Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1862.
  • Although Garnett was dressed as a Confederate general, his body was never identified after the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • 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, presumably Garnett’s final resting place.

What happened to General Garnett’s Body?

This video from Have History Will Travel discusses Garnett and Pickett’s Charge.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Richard B. Garnett
  • Date November 21, 1817–July 3, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Richard Brooke Garnett
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 28, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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