Who was George Crittenden, the Kentucky Librarian who fought for the Confederacy?

George B. Crittenden. Image Source: Wikipedia.

George Bibb Crittenden was born into a prominent Kentucky family and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1832. Afterward, he served in the U.S. Army during the Black Hawk War and the Mexican-American War. During the Civil War, Crittenden sided with the South and served as a general officer in the Confederate Army. After commanding troops at the Battle of Mill Springs, Crittenden briefly commanded the 2nd Division of the Army of Central Kentucky, but was relieved of duty and arrested for drunkenness on March 31, 1862. He was demoted and served the rest of the war in the Trans-Allegheny Department, occasionally leading troops in Western Virginia. After being paroled at the end of the war, Crittenden lived in Danville, Kentucky, where he served as the State Librarian of Kentucky until 1871.

Crittenden’s Early Life and Family

  • Crittenden’s grandfather, John Joseph Crittenden, was a major in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
  • His father, John J. Crittenden, was the 17th Governor of Kentucky, who also represented the Commonwealth in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, and he served twice as United States Attorney General.
  • His father drafted the Crittenden Compromise, an unsuccessful eleventh-hour attempt to save the Union and avoid the American Civil War.

Education at the U.S. Military Acadamy

  • Crittenden attended the U.S. Military Academy from July 1, 1828, to July 1, 1832.
  • He graduated 26th in his class of 33 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy on July 1, 1832.

Early Military Career and More Education

  • Crittenden was brevetted as a second lieutenant with the 4th U.S. Infantry on July 1, 1832, and was sent to Illinois to serve in the Black Hawk War.
  • He resigned from his military commission on April 30, 1833.
  • He received a law degree from Transylvania University.

Crittenden in Texas and the Mexican-American War

  • By 1842, Crittenden moved to the Republic of Texas where he enlisted in the Southwestern Army of Operations.
  • On December 26, 1842, Mexican forces captured him and 242 other Texans during the Battle of Mier near the Rio Grande River. Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna yielded to pressure from American political leaders — including Crittenden’s father — and announced his release on March 15, 1843.
  • When the Mexican-American War erupted in April 1846, Crittenden accepted an offer to rejoin the U.S. Army as a captain with the Mounted Rifles.
  • During the Mexican-American War, he served in the Army of Occupation under General Winfield Scott, earning a brevet promotion to major on August 20, 1847, for “Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.”

Later Years in the U.S. Army

  • The U.S. Army promoted Crittenden to major on March 15, 1848.
  • On August 18, 1848, a court-martial convicted him of drunkenness and dismissed him from the service.
  • The U.S. Army reinstated him on March 15, 1849.
  • The U.S. Army promoted him to lieutenant colonel on December 30, 1856.
  • On January 2, 1861, he gained some notoriety for defeating a band of Kiowa and Comanche and destroying their camp along the Cimarron River in New Mexico.

Crittenden in the Confederate Army

  • Crittenden resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on June 10, 1861, to join the Confederate cause.
  • Confederate officials commissioned him as brigadier general in the Provisional Confederate Army on August 15, 1861.
  • On November 9, 1861, he accepted a promotion to major general in the Provisional Confederate Army.
  • He commanded Rebel forces during the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Mill Springs (January 19, 1862).
  • On March 29, 1862, Confederate officials reorganized their forces in the West and reassigned Crittenden to a minor role as commander of the Reserve Corps of the Army of Mississippi.
  • On March 31, 1862, his commanding officer, Major General William J. Hardee had him arrested and charged with drunkenness on duty.
  • Crittenden submitted his resignation as a general officer on April 11, 1862, and Confederate officials accepted it on October 23.
  • After leaving the Confederacy’s general officer corps, he accepted reassignment along with a demotion to the rank of colonel.

Return to Kentucky

  • Following the Civil War, returned to Frankfort, Kentucky, where he found employment as the state’s librarian from 1867 to 1874.
  • On November 9, 1867, President Andrew Johnson formally pardoned him and many other Confederate officers who had been charged with treason.
  • On November 27, 1880, Crittenden died at his sister’s home, at age 69, in Danville, Kentucky.
  • Crittenden is buried in the Crittenden family plot in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.