Sunday, January 2, 2011

Who is Richard Brooke Garnett

Long believed to be a photo of Richard Brooke Garnett

       Richard Brooke Garnett came from a famous Virginia family. His cousin Robert Selden Garnett was the first Confederate general to die in the Civil War. Like his cousin Robert, Richard attended West Point and was serving in the United States Army when the war began. When Virginia seceded from the Union, he immediately resigned his commission and entered Confederate service.
       He is now known as a hero because of his bravery at Gettysburg, but that wasn’t always the case. Being a Virginian, he rose to take command of the famed “Stonewall Brigade” and his career took a turn for the worse after the Battle of Kernstown. Jackson had received bad intelligence and attacked a Federal force twice the size of his own. Garnett’s brigade found itself being overwhelmed and running low on ammunition. In order to save his men, he ordered a retreat. 
       General Jackson was so infuriated by the action that he had Garnett arrested, accusing him of cowardice in the face of the enemy and neglect of duty. The entire episode is a black mark on the career of Stonewall Jackson. Garnett had undoubtedly done the right thing, but Jackson had accomplished his goal. None of his subordinates would ever retreat again without orders. (Ironically, Garnett didn’t hold a grudge against Jackson. He believed the entire incident was a huge misunderstanding and after Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville he served as a pallbearer in his funeral.)
       General Robert E. Lee released Garnett from arrest and placed him in command of George Pickett’s brigade of Virginians. All  General Garnett wanted was a chance to redeem his honor. In command of his new brigade, he saw minor action at Antietam, was held in reserve at Fredericksburg and missed Chancellorsville entirely. 
       Needless to say, Richard Garnett wasn’t a happy man when he arrived at Gettysburg. He had been kicked by a horse a few days earlier and was unable to walk. He was running a high fever, wearing a coat in the hot July sun because of chills. Lee ordered all officers to walk during “Pickett’s Charge” because of the target a man on horseback would make. Garnett couldn’t walk and refused to miss the battle for fear he would be called a coward again. 
       Richard Garnett would ride his large black horse “Red Eye” to just in front of the clump of trees. Garnett never pulled his sword, but cheered his men forward with the black felt hat he wore. At some point    he was hit by canister fire, some say in the waist. His blood covered horse was seen galloping toward the rear. 

Death site of Richard Garnett

       Richard Brooke Garnett was never seen again. Years later, his sword was found in a Baltimore pawn shop by Confederate General George Hume Steuart.

Garnett's sword

       The mystery of General Garnett only began with the finding of his sword. There is a picture long thought to be that of Richard Brooke Garnett, but many believe that picture is of his cousin Robert Selden Garnett who was killed at Corrick’s Ford. According to a family member Garnett was the opposite of his cousin, having blonde hair, blue eyes and no beard. This family member wrote this description in 1908 and many historians believe he never met Richard Garnett. Interestingly, the family of Richard Garnett identified the original photograph as that of the general at the time of the war. Why would they identify the original photograph as Richard if the photograph is indeed Robert. 

Robert Selden Garnett

       To further complicate the matter, many believe that a photograph labeled as Confederate Major General Franklin Gardner is actually a picture of Richard Garnett. The matter became even more complicated a couple of years ago when a photograph surfaced with Richard Garnett’s name on the back. It shows a blonde haired gentleman that looks nothing like Robert Selden Garnett. Another historian believes this photograph is actually Confederate congressman Muscoe Russell Hunter Garnett of Virginia. 

Confederate General Franklin Gardner

Photograph labeled Franklin Gardner that many believe is that of Richard Garnett

Mystery Photograph with Richard Garnett's name on the back

       Prior to the Civil War, Garnett had a son by an Oglala Souix woman. They named the boy William “Billy” Garnett and there are several photographs of him in existence. Many historians try to take this photograph and compare them to the three photographs claimed by many to be Richard in order to figure out which is the famed general. 

Billy Garnett

       Garnett’s body was never found following the grand charge and many believe he was probably reinterred with the Confederate dead of Gettysburg in Hollywood Cemetery. The question still remains, which of these three are Richard Brooke Garnett or is it possible he never had a photograph taken that survived. We may never know. 

Monument in Hollywood Cemetery for Richard Brooke Garnett


  1. I love a good mystery! Would be great if we could somehow find the answer.

  2. I think Billy favors his mom. All of them indians are ugly!

  3. thats weird story about pictures thanks good blog

  4. "after Jackson was killed at Gettysburg." One problem, Jackson didn't die at Gettysburg.

  5. Sorry, should read Chancellorsville.

  6. what is your source of the sword photograph