Stephen Watts Kearny, US General, 1794-1848

Born in New Jersey on 30 August 1794, Kearny left college to join the army during the War of 1812, during which he rose to the rank of captain. After the war he stayed in the army, where he spent most of his time on frontier duty, including an expedition to the Yellowstone River in 1825, and was commander of a series of frontier posts after 1828. In 1846, before the outbreak of the Mexican War, he was promoted to brigadier general, and appointed commander of the Army of the West.

When war broke out, he was ordered to march west and occupy New Mexico and California. At the end of June 1846 he left Fort Leavenworth, only 200 miles west of the Mississipi with a force of 1,700 men, on what was to become a march of over 2,000 miles. He reached Santa Fe (New Mexico) on 18 August, and unopposed occupied the territory. While at Santa Fe he received news that California had been pacified by US naval forces, and accordingly, on 25 September he left most of his men in Santa Fe, and with only 120 dragoons and a wagon train headed west. Kearny's expedition was the first to take a wagon train across the Rocky Mountains, but when he reached southern California he found his information to be out of date. The US occupation of the province had proved unpopular amongst the largely Mexican population, and a province wide revolt had left the US navy in control of a few seaports at best. Keanry found his route to San Diego blocked by 500 Mexican cavalry. They fought on 6 December (battle of San Pascual), and although Kearny kept the field, his route to the sea was still blocked until a force of marines from San Diego reached him (10 December). Now with a much larger combined command, Kearny was able to beat the main Mexican army at the battle of San Gabriel (9 January 1847), near Los Angeles, breaking the back of resistance in the province. Late in 1847 he was ordered to Veracruz, where he served for a short time as governer, but contracted yellow fever. He returned to the States in 1848 and died on 31 October 1848.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (2 February 2001), Stephen Watts Kearny, US General, 1794-1848,

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