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Court-martialed general finds Gettysburg glory
Question of the Day
Stonewall died at Chancellorsville, and Gen. Robert E. Lee reassigned Garnett, allowing the issue to die. Still, by the time of Gettysburg, Garnett had not fully lived down the accusations, which weighed heavily on his mind.
Despite severe illness, he refused to excuse himself from leading his men. On July 3, 1863, before the commencement of Pickett’s Charge, Garnett’s colleagues asked him to forgo the attack. Garnett saw an opportunity to clear his name once and for all. He insisted that he would lead his men into battle, mounted on his charger, Red Eye. The other generals were appalled: All the other attackers would be on foot. The mounted Garnett would be an easy target for the Union Army.
This prediction proved true, and Garnett died leading his beloved men of the 8th, 18th, 19th, 28th and 56th Virginia infantry regiments. Red Eye came galloping back into the Confederate line riderless.
“General Garnett’s black war horse came galloping toward us with a huge gash in his right shoulder, evidently struck by a piece of shell. The horse in its mad flight jumped over Captain Campbell and me,” James Clay reported.
Lee reported his losses to President Jefferson Davis, including this line: “Generals Garnett and Armistead are missing, and it is feared that the former is killed and the latter wounded and a prisoner.”
The Confederates were insulted when Garnett’s body and final resting place were never identified. Clay wrote, “General Garnett wore a uniform coat, almost new, with a general’s star and wreath on the collar, and top boots, with trousers inside, and spurs. It is, therefore, inexplicable that his remains were not identified.”
In 1872, remains of Confederate dead were brought from Gettysburg and reburied at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. The Hollywood Memorial Association erected a cenotaph in Garnett’s honor in 1991, assuming that his remains were among the others.
Years after the war, Garnett’s sword was located in a Baltimore pawnshop and purchased by former Confederate Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart. The Baltimore Sun reported in articles published in November and December 1905, “The sword is after the pattern for artillery officers in the United States Army, and is inscribed ‘R.B. Garnett, U.S.A.,’ with the name of the maker. The blade is of fine metal, elaborately embellished, and is in perfect order. The scabbard is of fine steel, but somewhat rusty.”
Col. Winfield Peters wrote in the Baltimore Sun that “General Steuart died November 22, 1903. Mr. James E. Steuart, his nephew, is now enabled to forward the sword to its rightful possessor by descent, who is the wife of Col. John B. Purcell, Richmond, Va. General Garnett was the only remaining brother of Mrs. Purcell’s mother, who was deeply attached to him, and, through Col. Purcell, has assured Mr. Steuart, that the sword will be treasured by her, a niece of General Garnett, as a precious heirloom.”
The marker for CSA Gen. Richard Brooke Garnett in the Confederate Section of Hollywood Cemetery reads:
“Among the Confederate Soldiers’ Graves in this area is the probable resting place of Brigadier General Richard Brooke Garnett C.S.A. who was killed in action July 3, 1863, as he led his Brigade in the charge of Pickett’s Division on the final day of the battle of Gettysburg. First buried on the battlefield, General Garnett’s remains were likely removed to this area in 1872 along with other Confederate dead brought from Gettysburg by the Hollywood Memorial Association. Requiescat in Pace
“Richard Brooke Garnett 1817-1863.”
Richard Garnett suffered the ignominy of being accused of cowardice. His remains were never found. Even his likeness may not survive.
He saved his reputation by bravely attacking a much stronger enemy behind stone fortifications. He proved for all eternity his honorable bravery and willingness to sacrifice his own life.
His sword was returned to his relatives. His honor was never lost.
By Scott Pinsker
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